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As Rematch With Baker Mayfield Looms, Kyler Murray Proven Franchise QB For Cardinals

Former Oklahoma teammates each bear weight of No. 1 overall status

Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (left) and Kyler Murray swap jerseys after the Cardinals beat the Browns at State Farm Stadium in 2019.
Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield (left) and Kyler Murray swap jerseys after the Cardinals beat the Browns at State Farm Stadium in 2019.

The pairing – and comparing – of Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield will always be inevitable.

The two are friends, with Murray having backed up Mayfield for two years at the University of Oklahoma. They were both the No. 1 overall NFL picks in back-to-back drafts. They remain a funny duo doing ads together for Nissan's "Heisman House" campaign.

They've already met once on the NFL field, with Murray notching the victory in Arizona over Mayfield, and Murray had no desire to play up this meeting Sunday in Cleveland beyond anything other than a normal regular-season game.

"This isn't bigger," Murray said. "We're not about to make it the Super Bowl."

Yet it's difficult not to see how the bigger picture has unfolded for the two former Sooners stars, brought into the game this weekend.

Murray is regarded as one of the favorites to win MVP while the Cardinals have fashioned a 5-0 start. His progress, from Offensive Rookie of the Year to Pro Bowler to the level at which he's reached in Year 3 gives tangible proof to his status as franchise quarterback – the expectation when he was drafted.

His eventual contract extension is a matter of when, not if.

Mayfield, however, is in a different place. Despite being a year ahead of Murray in his career, Mayfield's potential contract extension in Cleveland remains a debate topic. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski ran a third-and-7 draw play with Cleveland nursing a one-point lead last week against the Chargers instead of letting Mayfield try and pass for a first down; the Chargers, whom the Browns hadn't stopped all day, ended up scoring the winning touchdown after the punt.

A main topic on one of the ESPN morning debate shows Wednesday? "Is Baker Mayfield an asset or liability to Browns?"

"Bake is a great player," Murray said. "He gets a lot of hate, and all that, but I watched it first-hand each and every day – how hard he worked, make throws that a lot of people can't make. I saw it all and I can legitimately say he's like that."

Mayfield, speaking to Cleveland reporters Wednesday, was asked if his game against the Chargers – 23 for 32, 305 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions – was his best of the season.

"Whether I am a great fantasy quarterback or whatever, I don't care about that," Mayfield said. "I'm trying to get a win."

That's what the expectation is of a No. 1 overall quarterback, after all. It isn't just about posting numbers, it's the numbers and winning. Coincidentally, Murray is coming off one of his worst statistical games – he said the video was "tough to watch" – but the Cardinals won.

This is the prism through which you are seen as a quarterback and as a No. 1 pick.

"When you're the guy, you get the glory but you also get the brunt of the backside of it, too," Cardinals tackle D.J. Humphries said.

Murray scoffed at the idea being drafted No. 1 overall could be anything but a positive – "That's something you dream about as a kid," he said – and it didn't hurt that coach Kliff Kingsbury installed Murray as the starter from the day he showed up, and remove whatever extra pressure might be there from being the top pick.

It doesn't hurt that Murray is the best quarterback in his class, while Mayfield will be measured against Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson.

It also doesn't hurt that Murray showed quickly he would develop into the franchise guy the Cardinals had hoped they had chosen.

"When you watched him do certain things … his talent was so high, the stuff we had to grow with and the stuff he had to learn over time, it was like, 'Hey, it'll be fine. We'll get there,' " Humphries said. "Because everything else was so good, it was like as soon as this side of it clicks, everything else was going to fall into play.

"It made it easy to not be impatient in any way. It was like, 'This kid is so good.' "

The Super Bowl won't be played Sunday in Cleveland, but there will be a battle between friends. Regardless of the outcome, the Cardinals are happy they have the quarterback they do.

"I think (Kyler) has got a lot of room for improvement, and so does he," Kingsbury said. "But we like where it's trended since he stepped foot in this building."

Images of the Cardinals Cheerleaders from our Week 5 game against the 49ers