Sports, and the NFL, like to talk about windows.
Actual glass is not what we’re speaking of here. It’s the window of opportunity. Like the one the Rams may have closing now, or the one just now opening for the Cardinals, and it’s because of the quarterback. Kyler Murray is on his rookie contract, and will be for at least a few years. That’s when a team can use that salary cap space that will eventually go to the QB – in this case, Murray – and use it elsewhere to bolster the roster and in theory, create a stronger team.
(If a guy is truly a franchise QB, like how Kyler is trending, he’ll get paid and your team still will be good, assuming good coaching and smart front-office moves. The cap should not be an issue.)
But the Rams might be in a different spot. Jared Goff has been a good QB but there is room for debate that he is a franchise player. But he got that kind of contract, and that – along with big deals for Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks and, sooner than later, Jalen Ramsey – will make it much harder for roster-building going forward.
That brings us to Sunday, when the Rams visit State Farm Stadium. No one is claiming the Rams are going away. But they are in a tough spot. They have not been the same team has last season, and there are a lot of theories. (I think that if Gurley was still Gurley, the Rams would be fine, but he is not, for whatever reason, whether it be him or the offensive line.) The 49ers are trending up, the Seahawks are the Seahawks and it sure feels like the Cardinals are in position to make a big step forward in 2020 with the right roster dynamics.
It also feels, even with a Super Bowl appearance under Goff’s belt, that the Cardinals are in a better spot at QB.
-- It became a punchline for a time, that Kliff Kingsbury and Sean McVay were friends, in large part to the naysayers who were incredulous that Kingsbury would get a shot at an NFL head coaching job when he did. But Kingsbury, with five games left, has indeed shown that he had an excellent offensive mind, just like his guy McVay. Maybe they are friends, but it’s because of the connection to the game. “He can talk some football now,” Kingsbury said of McVay, and I immediately thought of what a self-description that was for Kliff himself.
-- Back in 2015, the Cardinals ended up with a pretty interesting three-pronged group at running back. Andre Ellington was the starter to begin the season, with veteran Chris Johnson helping out. Then Ellington got hurt, and Johnson took over, with help from a rookie special teams ace named David Johnson. The Cardinals are back to having an interesting three-pronged running back group again. The question now is whether Johnson will end up back as that third guy. It seemed impossible at one point, but now, it’s hard to not consider every single option.
-- Another thing to consider, which I pointed out elsewhere: How much is Kliff Kingsbury actually going to use a second back, not to mention a third? Chase Edmonds had 11 touches in Cincinnati as a second guy to Johnson. But in the other 10 games this season, the second Cardinals running back has averaged just 3.2 touches per game.
-- Players get contractually what the market calls for, and they should. But this game, and the situations of Johnson and Gurley, bring into the spotlight of the big contracts for running backs again. Running backs are important in this league, and some are more valuable than others. It’s not the skill level but the length of time for greatness that’s so hard to predict.
-- With five games left, the Cardinals are averaging 4.96 yards per rushing attempt. That would be a franchise record. The current best is 4.87 yards a carry, set back in 1960.
-- The last time Johnson and the Cardinals played against the Rams at home, Johnson caught a touchdown pass from Larry Fitzgerald, so maybe a memorable play is in the offing again.
-- The last four outings for the Cardinals -- who had dominated the Rams for a number of years prior -- have been ugly. Twice, the Cards have been shut out. The collective score has been 130-25 Rams since McVay took over as head coach.
-- A player gambling on NFL games? It's definitely a wow. To be honest, I hadn't seen Josh Shaw since he went on IR Aug. 25. On a one-year deal, he was unlikely to return next year anyway. Still, gambling on NFL games as an NFL player, injured or not, is still wild to see. Judy Battista tweeted the last case anywhere similar came back in 1996, with a Ravens backup QB named Jon Stark, who was investigated for it.
-- The bye apparently was so helpful, Kingsbury might be faced with the pleasant task of coming up with seven healthy inactives Sunday. Only defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard (foot) has been less than full practice this week, and he’s at least in there on a limited basis.
-- I enjoyed this collective back-and-forth between Murray and the media this week when it came to discussion about the bye.
- How did it feel to have a break with the bye week?
- “I didn’t like it.”
- What did you do during the break?
- “I watched football.”
- Does it get you out of the rhythm, or …
- “I just don’t like it.”
- Are you not going to like the downtime of the offseason, or is this an in-season thing?
- “I think it’s in the season.”
- So you’ll be OK having some downtime when the season’s over, right?
- “Yeah. I’m not really focused on that though.”
The focus now is on the Rams.
See you Sunday.