Cardinals 2021 lookahead: Kyler Murray and his backup QBs
With the Arizona Cardinals missing out on the playoffs having finished 8-8 this year, we’re leaping ahead to — we hope — a relatively standard offseason.
In November, the NFL mapped out a 2021 offseason that officially begins on March 17, when free agents can be signed. Then comes the NFL Draft scheduled for April 29 through May 1.
The Cardinals have big roster decisions to make across the board. By looking back at last year, we’re taking a look — by position group — at the offseason personnel decisions ahead for Arizona general manager Steve Keim.
Let’s get it started by touching on the most important position on the roster: quarterback.
Players under contract
Kyler Murray ($8,080,601)
Chris Streveler ($780,000)
Brett Hundley (unrestricted)
The good news
At worst, Kyler Murray is still a raw quarterback with one full college season and two years of learning in the NFL now under his belt.
At best, he’s one of the most dynamic quarterbacks to game-plan against, with MVP potential.
Murray improved his passer rating from 87.4 (21st) as a rookie to 94.3 (18th) in 2020.
His QBR ticked up from 57.7 (15th) to 69.1 (14th) over his two seasons with Arizona.
Murray threw as many picks in 2020 as his rookie season (12) but increased his passing touchdowns by six, to 26. He completed 67% of his passes and threw for 3,971 yards while rushing for 819 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Maybe most importantly, Murray took 27 sacks after suffering 48 as a rookie as his feel improved.
How his rushing usage trends will be dependent on how much more comfortable he becomes as a true pocket passer and how head coach Kliff Kingsbury evaluates how and when to use him. Murray made it clear he’d prefer to show he can succeed as a passer — that his scrambling is either on play-calls or only because he’s got no other choice.
He will have to grow as a game manager and playmaker in the passing game, and a lot of that involves getting more out of his receivers starting with DeAndre Hopkins. It’s on Kingsbury to lead him toward improvement.
It might be ideal, in Murray’s own eyes, that his rushing aggressiveness might have topped out. That would mean the Cardinals passing attack ticks into top-10 territory after a underwhelming 2020.
There’s much room to grow for the 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick, and that’s not a bad thing for the Cardinals.
Murray ended his first two seasons in the same way: Nicked up and losing to the Los Angeles Rams.
It’s not that he is injury prone so much that it’s a wonder how those hits add up to eventually take some of his video-game quickness away. But worrying about his development we’ll leave for another day.
For now, it’s about how Arizona insures itself the team can remain competitive if Murray ever went down. Handing Chris Streveler the backup job to start 2020 was a surprise that didn’t have repercussions until the 2020 finale against Los Angeles.
Streveler, the former Canadian Football League quarterback, made his first NFL pass in Week 17 when Murray was lost for most of the Rams game to an ankle injury. Streveler went 11-of-16 for 105 yards and a pick-six (that might not have been all on him).
Still, that Streveler was the man over Brett Hundley, who in 2019 spelled Murray admirably and has extensive NFL experience, was a head-scratcher. Because of a limited offseason, Streveler didn’t have a great deal of experience.
And as many have pointed out, he was brought on as more of a gadget quarterback who was interception prone — and also a backup — for his last team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Streveler remains under contract, and Hundley’s weekly inactive status this year makes it appear he could be on the way out.
Especially if COVID-19 continues into the start of the season, finding a third quarterback will be absolutely necessary. It’s on the Cardinals to determine if Streveler or someone else can be a competent backup for a team that just can’t replicate its regular offense when Murray is not on the field.