Leadership concerns hover around Cardinals’ recent losing stretch

Dec 8, 2020, 5:35 PM | Updated: Dec 9, 2020, 12:25 pm

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) leaves the field after an NFL football game against ...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Washington Football Team, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 30-15. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Kyler Murray has a lot of great attributes. He also has a lot to learn.

He is pragmatic, sensible and smart. He lives in a two-bedroom condo. He owns one car. Video games are his only guilty pleasure. He is serious about most everything.

There’s a lot of good at the foundation of this young man.

But on the field, Murray needs some help. He needs better vision, better Zen and better poise. He needs a coach that can ease his burden and better showcase his skills. He needs more friends.

The latter should be an easy fix.

This is only speculation from the virtual press box, but the terrible body language often attached to the Cardinals’ offense is a serious problem. Most of it stems from their Grumpy Cat quarterback, who claims football is his first love but often looks annoyed with his choice of professions.

During good times, Murray is a very effective leader, galvanizing with his legs and not his words, with his electrifying jaunts and peerless displays of elusiveness on a football field. Those individual efforts create energy and inspiration, elevating the entire operation.

But in bad times?

Murray rarely hides his frustration. He has occasionally shown up the offensive line, unaware that they had to wear his 48 sacks as a rookie, many of them self-inflicted. After a two-touchdown game earlier in the season, Christian Kirk said he felt like he finally had a connection with the quarterback, and he was once a college teammate. Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t seem to be on Murray’s radar screen on or off the field, and that’s very strange, since Fitzgerald is all about relationships, and one of the most affable, approachable people in the NFL. And the hangdog gestures from DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday were beyond the pale.

Over the past month, Murray has also been prickly, weird and condescending to the media. He’s been the antithesis of Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer, who were often at their finest in times of strife and defeat.

To be fair, Warner and Palmer also came to Arizona with plenty of age, experience and battle scars.

Murray is learning everything on the fly, from defenses to public relations. He is carrying the hopes and dreams of the Valley on his shoulders while playing the hardest position in professional sports. He was handed the keys to an organization at age of 22. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and yet he wouldn’t be here if he measured a half-inch shorter at the NFL Combine.

For most of his football life, Murray has had to exude impenetrable confidence in himself just to survive. He has to fortify and shield himself from the cynics, especially with all the doubt attached to his diminutive size. Maybe he had to build an emotional wall to survive the journey.

It can’t be easy. His story is unlike any other potentially great quarterback in NFL history. But it doesn’t have to be this hard.

By now, it’s clear that all of Murray’s teammates aren’t always digging him. And ex-NFL player Bart Scott was the first to voice this brand of criticism, saying Murray didn’t come off as “a leader of men.” Scott doubled down, saying he was certain his viewpoint of Murray was on the money, a clear sign he had spoken to someone in the organization.

At the time, general manager Steve Keim jumped to Murray’s defense, saying he had “absolutely zero concerns with his leadership.”

But things have changed. Everyone has concerns now, about most everything. About Kliff Kingsbury’s leadership; about the defensive adjustments that have incinerated Murray’s MVP candidacy; about who, if anyone, is delivering the tough love inside this organization; and what to do about all those pouty, petulant faces you might see on the sideline on any given Sunday in Arizona?

That has to change, and it all starts with the quarterback. Because quarterbacks are commanded to lead. They have no choice. They can’t be a lone wolf. They must empower the huddle, share the love, give the credit, take the blame, laugh in the face of disaster and transform an 11-man unit into one indomitable beating heart.

Until then, “Hail Murray” is just a trademark.

Dan Bickley

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