Kyler Murray and the art of doing yourself no favors
Three-plus years ago, appearing the day he won the Heisman, I gave Kyler Murray all the credit in the world.
The headline was my own and I meant it: “Everything Kyler Murray has done is more impressive than anything that will happen tonight.”
Because the Heisman was the cherry on top, winning it was not his greatest athletic achievement, nor even , oddly, what he’d done to win it. Most impressive was his doing what he did to win it under the conditions against which he did them.
Do you recall?
His 2018 Heisman season included the at-the-time highest single season pass efficiency rating in the history of the game (205.7) and an astounding 892 rushing yards, too; figures that became a still-best ever 199.2 efficiency rating and 1,001 ground yards after meeting Alabama in the Orange Bowl.
What made it so preposterously unbelievable was he did it in his only season as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, against the pressure of taking over for Baker Mayfield, despite shuffling between baseball and football the previous spring, becoming the 10th pick in the baseball draft the previous June, all while doing enough academically to earn second-team all-conference honors, meaning his GPA was north of 3.0.
Count me blown away.
He wasn’t that vocal. You wondered if his leadership skills included corralling a team and dragging it where it needed to go or if they were limited to merely doing the job better than everybody else. Whatever, what you could not do was doubt him.
All that, and several games into the 2021-22 season for Arizona, he was the NFL’s best and most exciting quarterback, like Michael Vick or Randall Cunningham at their zenith, only better, and with no baggage.
I gushed then, too.
Now, it’s a different calculus.
Murray still has every opportunity to become the best NFL quarterback you or I have ever seen and, if not that, the best quarterback you or I will see over the next 10 to 15 years and, if not that, merely a superb quarterback, one of the greats, a hall-of-famer.
He also has the chance to become the poster child for so much that ails sports right now; to become Generation Z’s most cautionary athletic tale; to be the name at the end of the sentence when the sentence is, “Well, we hope he doesn’t become the next …”
It’s all on the table and he has only himself to thank.
In February, he scrubbed all mention of the Cardinals, his team, from social media.
There was a tweet from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, citing “sources” that said “Murray is described as self-centered, immature and [a] finger pointer” and that “Murray is frustrated with franchise … and thinks he’s been framed as the scapegoat.”
Perhaps everybody’s happy now.
Seems like they should be given the Cardinals and Murray agreed on a $230 million contract extension just a few days ago, one that could get him through the 2028 season, though one can’t know because every NFL contract this side of Deshaun Watson and the Browns, unlike the other sports, is non-guaranteed.
Still, harmony, right?
Until Wednesday, at least, when reporting alerted the world to an addendum in Murray’s deal demanding he spend at least four hours a week in independent study, preparing for the Cardinals’ next opponent.
ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss offered this revelation:
“The addendum also states that Murray will not get credit if he's not studying or watching the material while it plays on his tablet or if he's doing something that can distract him or draw his attention elsewhere while the material is playing, such as playing video games, watching TV or browsing the internet.”
Why can’t so many who’ve hit home runs in life not sabotage their good fortune with knuckleheadedness?
Murray came up lame against the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
Apparently healthy, after a regular season in which he’d aided his arm with his feet, carrying the ball at least four times each game and 88 times over 14 games, he completed 19 of 34 tosses for just 137 yards and ran twice for 6.
Though befuddling, it remained a fine season, a confidence builder, a campaign after which a quarterback and his team can look forward to “taking the next step.”
Instead, very publicly, Murray burned up a bunch of goodwill for no reason at all or to get paid, one or the other, like a sanctimonious, me-me-me, above-the-team, never-happy basketball player, of which there are too many.
Now, the deal done, an embarrassing addendum to that deal, one understood and thus unnecessary for every other quarterback in the league, has exposed, given recent history, the Cardinals’ well-founded misgivings.
Thursday, Murray gave an unexpected press conference.
“I’m flattered that y’all think that, at my size, I can go out there and not prepare for the game and not take it serious,” he said, wearing a black T-shirt with the word EA$Y emblazoned upon it. “It’s disrespectful.”
Maybe, but so was alienating your team and saying little productive since, forgetting that even if you’ve earned it, passively aggressively expressed entitlement is never a good look.
No question, Murray’s NFL legacy remains his to make.
Only now it will be a lonelier pursuit, amid greater pressure, surrounded by many who hope he fails, so much of which could have been avoided.
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