DAN BICKLEY

By holding out Kyler Murray, Cardinals leadership fails 2021 first impression

Aug 13, 2021, 9:04 PM | Updated: 11:36 pm

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray watches from the sidelines prior to an NFL preseason foo...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray watches from the sidelines prior to an NFL preseason football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

First impressions matter. They didn’t help Kliff Kingsbury on Friday, where it didn’t take long for the Cardinals head coach to embarrass himself yet again.

After declaring Kyler Murray would definitely play in the Cardinals’ preseason opener Friday at State Farm Stadium, the third-year quarterback never dressed for the occasion.

Did Kingsbury change his mind? Was he toying with Cardinals fans to keep them engaged, to increase profits and in-house attendance? Was he trying to throw off an opponent before a preseason game? Or was he once again left in the dark, oblivious about things beyond his grasp and control?

Maybe Kingsbury finally came to his senses about resting irreplaceable players in meaningless games, following the lead of Rams head coach Sean McVay. Or maybe Kingsbury never had control of this decision in the first place. Either way, the disconnect between Kingsbury and his audience continues to be a huge issue in Arizona, and it was not a convincing way to start a new era of Cardinals football, the first season without the presence of Larry Fitzgerald, the rock of professionalism no longer mooring the franchise.

The Cardinals are under extreme pressure to make the playoffs in 2021. It’s been five years since they’ve posted a winning record. Their entire infrastructure is under a microscope.

They are surfing in the wake of the triumphant Suns, who came within two wins of a NBA championship, proving that nothing is impossible in Arizona with superior leadership, great coaching and shrewd personnel decisions.

Steve Keim is a general manager who has held onto his job through a vortex of stunning failures, reflecting the kind of double standard that makes NFL players furious with ownership. There are no more excuses.

Kingsbury is also attempting to be a bonafide leader, and not just a glorified quarterbacks coach. It’s about time. But Murray is the key to everything.

He has two bumpy, productive years under his belt. He’s been a MVP candidate for a half-season; a reluctant warrior consumed with self-preservation; a dual-threat with few peers in the NFL; a frustrated schoolboy phenomenon with bad body language; and a questionable leader unwilling to listen to and/or bond with teammates.

He’s also been under immense pressure. Few NFL quarterbacks have been so disparaged based on their physical size. He had to endure the stares and the silent cynicism while attempting to lead a huddle from Day One. Walls had to be constructed for Murray to survive his precipitous initiation in the NFL, a player forced to fake it before he makes it.

Entering Year 3, there are hopeful signs of emotional maturity. Murray was praised for gifting Michael Bidwill a painting that included a depiction of his late father, Bill Bidwill. The gesture will surely go a long way inside the Bidwill family business.

But Murray is also on the hook with his teammates, the ones who remember the late-season collapse in 2020. His reticence to return to the playing field in the final game against the Rams was not well received by hardcore veterans in the locker room. And if we learned anything from the Suns, we know the 2021 Cardinals will go nowhere if they don’t trust their leadership, from the top all the way to the bottom floor.

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