DAN BICKLEY

Kyler Murray’s return to play can’t come soon enough for Arizona Cardinals

Nov 5, 2023, 2:38 PM | Updated: Nov 6, 2023, 1:48 pm

Kyler Murray looks on...

Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals watches from the sidelines during the first half of the NFL game against the Denver Broncos at State Farm Stadium on August 11, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals have passed the halfway point of the 2023 season. The journey is about to get interesting.

The return of Kyler Murray is imminent. It should happen this week. Which means we’re about to witness the second act of one of the most polarizing athletes in Valley history. With no more decoys, gamesmanship or mysteries. And not one minute too soon.

After a 27-0 loss to the Browns, the Cardinals are 1-8. The hype surrounding Clayton Tune’s first NFL start evaporated after the first two possessions on Sunday, when the Browns’ fearsome defense made it clear the shores of Lake Eerie were no place for a rookie quarterback to make his professional debut.

Tune didn’t have a chance for most of the afternoon, and it’s clear our try-hard, well-prepared football team needs some help. It needs a jolt of transcendent talent. The rest of us need a compelling reason to watch.

No offense intended, and in the case of Tune’s Cardinals, no offense provided. Arizona blockers were nothing but speed bumps for the Browns on Sunday, while Myles Garrett abused everyone in his path, including D.J. Humphries. This is also a season with very low expectations, and the first nine weeks have gone about as well as Jonathan Gannon could’ve hoped.

The Cardinals have remained competitive, engaged and spirited. They gave Gannon a victory that mattered early in the season, along with a game ball to commemorate that raucous victory against the Cowboys. Since then, they’ve mastered the tricky mission of building culture while losing football games, while protecting and enhancing their draft status in 2024.

The final eight games will be another matter, where the return of Murray will be a hefty, weighty moment in franchise history. Is he still a dynamic weapon and franchise quarterback? Will he flourish in a professional offense, not a gimmicky collegiate scheme designed to fail in the NFL? Will Murray seize the next chapter of his football career? Or will an already-skittish player struggle to find a comfort zone with a rehabilitated knee?

Murray has reportedly bonded with the new regime. He seems to respect Gannon more than he ever did former head coach Kliff Kingsbury. He has been present and accountable at Cardinals headquarters, emotionally plugged in with his new teammates. He has said all the right things, including how much he misses the sport of football.

And now comes the important stuff:

Murray must let it rip. He must operate from under center while commanding a new offense. He must feel comfortable in the pocket and take his leadership skills to the next level. He must stand and deliver, proving he has the tools and gumption to play professional football at its highest level.

His performance over the second half of the season will dictate whether the Cardinals need to shop for his replacement in the 2024 NFL Draft. Or whether they can spend that draft capital on other positions of need, content that they already have their franchise quarterback on the roster.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6–10 a.m. on the Arizona Sports app, 98.7 or ArizonaSports.com.

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Kyler Murray’s return to play can’t come soon enough for Arizona Cardinals