So yeah, Kyler Murray got hurt. That's the story. This is the mailbag. Questions have been edited for length and clarity. As always, you can send in a question for a future mailbag here.
From John Buncles:
"If Kyler's injury is proved to be serious (I hope not, but it looked bad), would it be crazy to draft another QB in the first round next year?"
Yes, it looks serious. As for the quarterback, I don't think it makes a ton of sense to take a QB in the first round unless you've made some concrete decisions. What is Murray's timetable? What about his contract? All these things play into this. But that seems highly doubtful.
From Sebas Quiros:
"Man, Kyler's injury puts the cherry on top of an awful season in all senses. Awful record, bad injuries, etc. What do you do now? Do you tank? I'm not a fan of tanking, but being realistic (often confused with pessimistic) it was a huge longshot for us to make the postseason and without Kyler the chances are even slimmer. So, do you still try to make it, do you tank? What do you do? What do you think? Prayers up for Kyler!"
The Cardinals aren't going to make the postseason, but what really is tanking? We've had this discussion before -- there is no upside for players or coaches to give less than their all because while a higher draft pick might ultimately help the organization, it does not directly help those players and coaches. They aren't going to just give up. This team is beat the hell up, so you only have so many players you can use anyway. You're not benching Hop and Watt. This will play out the way it plays out.
From Kevin from Canada:
"Hey Darren, been an absolute rough year and as it's already been highlighted that the evaluation of K1 over the final weeks is over now. As someone who has also torn up their knee from non-contact, I feel sick to my stomach for him. Very similar situation to last year with Hop and K1, both had hamstring injuries and later tore their knees. (Not sure if it was same leg for either player though). There's so much pressure to return from injury and I hate to wonder if his weak hamstring from the injury influenced the knee injury. From my recollection Carson Palmer had quite the year after his ACL year. Hope rehab goes well and Kyler can be ready to start the year."
I'm no doctor nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I wouldn't think the hamstring had anything to do with the ACL injury. Murray had said last week he was 100 percent healthy. As for the rehab, we will see what happens. Palmer did have a huge success story. But Palmer had already been through an ACL rehab and knew what to expect, and something like this might be harder mentally than physically. Also, Palmer's game had little to do with his legs. Can't say the same for Kyler.
From Dan Marks:
"I feel like Kyler has been unfairly raked over the coals this season. It looks like he's done for the year, and potentially a good part of next season, and I'm a little disappointed that he won't get the chance to redeem himself after a down year. With all of that being said, there were a number of fans sitting near me tonight that seemed happy that he went down. In a variation of questions that you've received a lot this year, can you remember the last time there was a palpable disdain for a starting quarterback? Kevin Kolb, followed closely by the first eight games of Palmer and the first two years of Warner/Leinart?"
It is clear that Kyler creates strong feelings one way or the other; the side that stans for Murray is very vocal as well. But this is the life of an NFL quarterback. The spotlight is white hot. You've got to play well -- I'm not saying there weren't those criticizing Kyler early last year, but mostly he got love when this team started so well. He also showed up with by far the most expectations of any quarterback that arrived in Arizona since I have been covering the team. Warner and Palmer were considered all but done when they became Cardinals, and showed everyone they were wrong. I agree with this: The only way to shift the tide is to play well, and he'll have to come all the way back to do that.
From Lia Encampo:
"Hi Urbz. My heart goes out to Kyler the human being. Never want to see anyone get hurt. But with that said, he's paid, he's set for life, there are worse tragedies. Football is a cold business, so on the football side of things, do you think theres a chance this devastating, often career changing injury (especially for a dynamic runner) could spurn massive change in the org?"
I don't know what's going to happen. This is still all very fresh and I doubt anything has been completely thought through at the top. The games aren't going to matter in terms of this year or the standings, realistically, but how they are handled by everyone involved still very much can have a bearing on what decisions are made in the offseason. As for Kyler being monetarily set, this is true. But the kid just wants to play football. We can parse how he goes about it sometimes, but I have no doubt he loves the game and loves being out there and competing, and having money doesn't sooth that.
From Dana Miller:
"Hey Darren, to go along with your projections of Kyler, Allen, Murphy, Watt, and anyone else I'm forgetting, what's the outlook on DeAndre Hopkins? I think his cap hit next year is $30M. That just ain't feasible now that we have to pay Kyler too?"
Why isn't it feasible? These contract decisions aren't made in a vacuum, or done with the idea "just get them signed and we will figure out everything later." There is a slight element to that, but they aren't giving Kyler the deal he had without looking at the rest of the roster. Hop is a good case in point. Yes, his cap hit is $30 million in 2023. But Kyler's cap hit is only $16M. If you said your QB and best wideout had a combined $48M cap hit, you'd nod your head and think, "That's normal."
From Heath Slater:
"Since you posted it, I have to comment on it. David Johnson's 2016 is the single-most 'superstar' season I think we've ever seen out of an Arizona Cardinals players. Fitz's greatness is tied to his longevity. His historic playoff run is falls somewhere behind DJ's 2016. I think Chandler Jones' 2019 with his 19 sacks and eight forced fumbles doesn't get enough recognition for it's dominance. But for my money, 2016 David Johnson was the most transcendental game changer we've seen. Man that was something to behold. I suppose my question for you is was there a better one?"
You have a pretty good list there. I think Kurt Warner's 2008 season -- especially with no running game in the regular season -- was pretty amazing. I think I would still put Fitz's playoff run over Johnson just because of the stage. Jones was unreal in 2019. But yes, But I don't want to take away from what Johnson did, and I'm just sad he got hurt in the season finale because I have no doubt B.A. would've made sure he ended up with a 1,000-1,000 season.
From Chad J:
"Several times on the mailbag, when fans groan that we don't have a Hall of Fame player at a position, you kindly remind us that those stellar players aren't just sitting at home waiting to be called. If they are at home, it's for a reason. We all know the GM and typically assume the GM is the sole decider in the 53-man roster, but can you explain about the others involved in the decision making process? How many scouts do the Cardinals have and what areas do they cover? How do the scouts process and share information to the overall team? Is there a organizational grading rubric (I once heard Pete Carroll,for instance, only wanted DBs whose wingspan was over a certain length)? I assume there are college scouts and NFL scouts? I obviously don't know much about the process other than I know the GM can't possibly be watching tape of all the players in the world and making unilateral decisions only based on his information."
Let's be clear that there are no great players at home. Ever. They might eventually be HoF players but they won't be great anymore -- hence, the being at home. But you are correct when it comes to how teams -- and the Cardinals -- seek out roster additions. Quentin Harris, Adrian Wilson, Dru Grigson and Glen Fox and their department in player/pro personnel are constantly evaluating and making ready lists. The team also has all their research from when they scouted all these players in college, and that is included in their evaluation. The salary cap and monetary demands are also part of the equation. Finally, I don't know how detailed of a rubric they have, but there is a kind of player they are seeking at every spot -- something that has been discussed with the coaches -- and that too will go into the process.
From Robert Nations:
"Do you have any insight on the OL for 2023? Rodney Hudson and Justin Pugh are likely retiring. Rashaad Coward, Kelvin Beachum, Cody Ford, Max Garcia, Billy Price and Will Hernandez are unrestricted free agents. Which of these are someone they would like to re-sign? I do expect both drafting an OL (or more) as well as possible free-agent pickups. Thank you for hosting the mailbag."
Insight? Probably not. Speculation? I can do that. You are correct, there are a lot of question marks facing this team on the offensive line for next season. I would think Will Hernandez played well enough that you'd want to try to keep him around. Beachum is a great question. I'd say it was a no-brainer, with what he gives you on and off the field, but is it time to clear a path for Josh Jones? That's not a simple question. Some of the others I would think you could re-sign to cheap deals and sort out after free agency -- where maybe you try to find a piece or two -- and then definitely target someone in the draft.
From Rion Johnson:
"Hi Darren. I just want to go on record and point out I've said, multiple times over a couple mailbags, that we should get Baker Mayfield in here. He is a good player. And more importantly, he is a fantastic leader. Commence the eye-rolling but lets at least stop pretending it doesn't matter. It really matters. How can you watch that guy rally the Rams, drive 98 yards and deliver a dime deep ball better than Kyler has all season, for the W, after only being on the roster for 48 hours? Kyler has more natural talent, no doubt. But Baker is superior in about every other way."
The Mayfield comeback was amazing and I loved watching it. I also know that Baker Mayfield was terrible every other time this season. Let's see what happens the rest of the year with Baker. Yes, leadership matters, but I've known tons of guys from high school on up who were great leaders, but because they weren't good players, it does not matter. The No. 1 rule for being a good leader? You have to produce. Otherwise guys don't care. I think it's fair to say at this point there are few people who don't have a strong opinion of Kyler, either way. (Of course, with Murray's future murky in terms of a comeback, what they do in 2023 is going to have to be figured out.)
From Brandon K:
"Was listening to the Underground podcast. Huge thanks to the staff for the effort put into it. Couple of things I thought I'd mention. People may not learn as much from their failures, despite conventional wisdom, unless they do. Humans, amiright? You've posited that Matt Leinart needed a butt-pat instead of a butt-chew (and Paul shared some excellent points about using Kurt Warner as your measuring stick), which got me wondering: Ken Whisenhunt was almost certainly stubborn, but did someone on the team or in his trust-circle push against the notion that his tactics weren't working in the way he hoped? If such a thing happened and he chose to ignore it, did he ever acknowledge he may have handled the situations suboptimally? Also, have you ever witnessed a moment of 'on the record' realization or admission of coaches (any level) that didn't feel like protecting players, team speak, or rhetoric? Ya'll rock. Don't stop. Or do. I'm not the boss of you."
This was a fascinating question. Something more interesting than "are they gonna change coaches" or "why doesn't the offense work." I do not know if that conversation was ever had with that staff, but I don't know if it would've changed much either. To be clear, Leinart's development was not just about how he was handled or his confidence -- some of it was indeed could've been impacted on how he approached prep time. As you note, measuring next to Warner in your QB room is hard. As for blunt comments, I mean, Bruce Arians was the coach for five seasons. One example: Q: Bruce, is Justin Bethel a work-in-progress? A: He's a failure-in-progress. (Everyone raised eyebrows.)
From Matthew Stroh:
"Hey Darren thank you for everything you do. This year been crazy not just for the Cardinals but the whole league. Yes this season hasn't gone as planned And I would be lying if at the beginning of the season after the rough start I wasn't thinking fire every coach. But now having time to breath and knowing there are things I don't know. I think Michael Bidwill need to wait until after week 18 and take a long look and then make the decision. What percentage would you give to Bidwill making a coaching change? Second, do you think Drew Stanton would make a good offensive coordinator?"
If you're going to wait to see how the rest of the season plays out before making the decision, the percentage right now should be zero, right? I do think the balance of the season matters. As for Stanton, I think Drew might in the exact right situation, but again, people assume some of these ex-players who might be good coaches also would want to commit 80-90 hours a week to a job (which is way more hours than a player is used to). I think Drew would be good at it, personally. Don't know he'd really want to.
From Case Wallson:
"Hey Darren. Did you catch ASU coach Kenny Dillingham's interview on Arizona Sports? I came away very impressed. He nailed it by saying we need to keep home-grown talent. Arizona has plenty of 4-star and 5-star athletes every year. And they leave and go to Texas and Michigan and Bama. If we can just keep some of them, it's going to make a major difference in this program. I'm desperate for the team to find that coach and recruiting staff who can keep Arizona talent in Arizona. I think a winning program is right around the corner. No thanks to Byron Murphy or Christian Kirk. Yeah that's right, I didn't forget their betrayal. You need to press them on that Darren."
Lol. A high school player betraying a school they have no ties to other than it's near where they grew up? That's like saying the Cardinals should sign Donovan McNabb because he has a house in Chandler. Look, as a Sun Devil, I'd love for the best local players to play for ASU. But that's on ASU, not the kids. When my kids were thinking about where to go to college (they are not athletes), it was their choice -- and if one or both would have picked Arizona, sure, I might've died a little inside, but if it was where they wanted to go, so be it. I'm glad Dillingham was the pick,as a fellow Chaparral grad, and I think he'll do good things. But if these local kids go elsewhere, I don't blame them, and I certainly don't blame Murphy or Kirk for choosing the path that was right for them (and with Kirk having a giant contract and Murphy about to get his own, you can't say they made a poor choice.)