Kyler Murray is barely 23 years old, and with his prodigious talent, it's easy to envision a career that spans two decades, a la Tom Brady or Drew Brees.
But the second-year quarterback has a sense of urgency befitting a player at the end of his journey, not the start of it.
Murray was steaming mad after the Cardinals’ last-minute loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, because he's ready to contend now – not 2025.
"It's time," Murray said. "It's Year 2. There's not time to wait around and say, 'We'll do this in Year 6 or Year 7.' You never know. You never know when your last snap is going to be. I'm always striving to get better, always striving to be the best."
While the Cardinals have a bright future, Murray's recent play gives credence to his belief in the team's 2020 fortunes.
In the past four games, he has a passer rating of 111.7 and is averaging 6.3 yards per carry, as the offense has been the most efficient in the NFL since Week 5, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Cardinals are averaging 34 points per game in that span and Murray now has the seventh-best odds to win MVP, per PFF. While no quarterback in the NFL has ever thrown for 4,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season, Murray is currently on pace for 4,260 passing and 1,086 rushing yards at the midway point.
"He's a stud," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "He's got a wealth of ability, and it's a testament to his hard work and everything he does to put himself in position. I think the game is becoming easier to him. It's slowing down a bit."
Murray hasn't just sidled up to greatness this year, he's reached it – "Oh, Kyler’s at stardom," ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said during the bye week – and it's something longtime friend Christian Kirk has been sure about since they met as teenagers at high school football camps.
"Every setting that we were at, or I was able to watch him, he dominated," said Kirk, the Cardinals' third-year receiver and former Texas A&M teammate of Murray. "I remember the first time he showed up on campus at A&M and we had our summer workouts. Him getting back there and throwing the ball, and during 7-on-7, all the guys being blown away. I was like, 'I told you. That's what he does.'
"And even when the rumor was spreading that we were going to draft him last year, I was telling everybody: 'The kid's special. You'll see.' Everybody's asking me, and I'm like, 'You'll just have to see it for yourself.' And sure enough, he's been able to step in here quickly and take the rein of this team and show why he can be one of the top players in this league."
At 5-3, the Cardinals are one game back of the Seahawks in the NFC West and the same distance behind Seattle, Green Bay and New Orleans for conference supremacy.
Few expect the Cardinals to finish ahead of those teams by the end of the year – but don't say that too loudly around Murray.
"Every time he's out there on the field, there's nothing you can tell him, like, 'Hey, we might not have a shot today,'" Kirk said. "We can be matched up in the most unfortunate position, and he's still going to put us in the best position to win. That's just his mindset. Every time he's out there, he believes that we're going to win."
Plenty of players have that type of confidence, which is only natural after so much success at the lower levels of football. But Murray has backed it up with the blazing start to his NFL career, which included Rookie of the Year honors in 2019 and now dazzling weekly performances in 2020.
"I feel like I'm the best player on the field," Murray said. "I always have the ball in my hands. It's my job to lead the offense down the field and put touchdowns up. I don't limit myself to any amount of time needed or years or anything like that. I'm obviously a lot more comfortable in understanding the offense. Our guys are more comfortable. We're playing a lot better."
Patrick Mahomes won the Super Bowl in his third season in February. The best regular season team last year was the Ravens, who had second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson at the helm. Russell Wilson won his Super Bowl in Year 2 with the Seahawks, back in 2013.
As Fitzgerald pointed out, a great quarterback at a below market salary is the tried and true method to competitiveness in the modern-day NFL.
"You've got to make the run when he is still on his rookie deal," Fitzgerald said.
That's why the setbacks wear on Murray so much. There was no solace Sunday in becoming the first player in NFL history to register a passer rating above 150 while still losing the game.
"You would think he'd just lost the Super Bowl," Kirk said. "That's how hard he is on himself. That's what you want to see, though. He just cares so much."
Images from the Dignity Health Training Center, presented by Hyundai.