New era of Arizona Cardinals football set to begin in season opener
Obstacles are everywhere, from the pandemic to the political to the wildfires disrupting the NFL’s opening weekend.
Whenever the Cardinals take the field, it will be the beginning of a new era.
It will be Year 2 of Kyler Murray, a serious-minded young man who has all the gifts, from arm strength to foot speed to brainpower.
It will be Year 1 of the honey zone, that precious small window of opportunity NFL teams experience when they have a young franchise quarterback operating on a rookie contract. That small hiccup in time when a football team can afford all the bells, whistles and luxury items because their quarterback isn’t earning fair market value.
The Chiefs won a Super Bowl and lost an AFC Championship Game before having to pay Patrick Mahomes nearly a half-billion dollars. They were lucky.
The Seahawks won a Super Bowl with Russell Wilson, who was a third-round pick earning just $526,000 at the time. Seattle should have two titles in his tenure, blowing another Super Bowl in a goal-line debacle against the Patriots, a regret that still haunts the organization.
The Texans won zero titles and blew a 24-point in the AFC Championship Game in 2019 before they had to pay Deshaun Watson. They were the exception. And you’ll find no greater beneficiaries than football fans in Arizona.
During the Texans’ debut on Thursday Night Football, viewers learned that Bill O’Brien wasn’t just desperate to get rid of DeAndre Hopkins because he missed practice and was occasionally hard to manage.
It was because Hopkins wanted concessions rarely seen in the history of the NFL. He wanted to get paid like a free agent even though he had three years left on his contract. He was threatening to sit out the season if his contract wasn’t re-negotiated on the spot, in the moment, commensurate to the impact player who tore through NFL defenses.
O’Brien couldn’t pay Hopkins and Watson, who just inked a $156 million extension with the Texans. And that’s surely why the Houston quarterback has never complained about the loss of his star wide receiver. Because it all came down to money, and who was getting paid first.
A source said O’Brien’s first call was to his mentor in New England, Bill Belichick. The Patriots head coach declined. He loved the player but wanted no part of the precedent or the contract demands.
O’Brien told the TNF crew that Hopkins’ demands were so over-the-top that he could only negotiate with teams that had quarterbacks performing on rookie contracts. That limited the field significantly in Arizona’s favor, especially since the Cardinals had a pressing need at wide receiver, and a lot of money coming off the books at the position when Larry Fitzgerald eventually retires.
More to the point, they now have one of the NFL’s greatest receivers paired up with one of its most exciting young quarterbacks. The Chiefs have Mahomes and Tyreek Hill. The Cardinals have Murray and Hopkins. Whom would you prefer?
Many believed the Cardinals would be in this position after aggressively moving up to select Josh Rosen with the No. 10 pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
Instead, it’s happening now, after a stunning turn of events: hiring a college head coach who had recruited and coveted Murray in the past; after drafting Murray to replace Rosen one year after moving up to snag a franchise quarterback from UCLA; after Hopkins decided he was not going to out-perform his contract in Houston, even if it meant getting traded.
It’s all come together for the Cardinals, under the strangest of circumstances.
The last time we saw this football team, Murray was gutting his way through a 31-24 loss to the Rams, maybe the hardest game of football he’s ever played in his life. Dan Arnold had 76 yards receiving. Patrick Peterson looked like his old self. Christian Kirk couldn’t catch the football. It was the last NFL game at the L.A. Coliseum. David Johnson didn’t touch the field.
Hopefully, a different team will emerge from the shadows on Sunday. The Cardinals’ offense looks unstoppable, balanced and hungry. The organization has found the NFL’s sweet spot, plucking their franchise quarterback from the NFL draft, at an affordable rate, lucking into Hopkins when they had David Johnson and plenty of money to spare.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.