Saying it had become too much of a distraction for the team, the Arizona Cardinals have removed a controversial “independent study” clause from franchise quarterback Kyler Murray’s contract. But the team can’t easily put the lid on the can of worms it opened by inserting the clause in the first place.
Murray’s five-year, $230.5 million extension, signed with the Cardinals last week, made him the second-highest earning player in the league on a per-season salary basis. It also included the odd mandate that Murray spend at least four hours per week doing film study on his own time, an activity to which he had to devote his full attention, sans distractions like video game or TV.
NFL quarterbacks are so expected to study their own offense and opposing defenses that codifying a link between film study and compensation—in such a large contract no less—is an absurd redundancy. It was debated by sports talking heads and among fans on social media all week. I wrote on Wednesday that the “homework clause” recalled an ugly history of NFL execs, teams and fans ostracizing Black quarterbacks on a belief they lacked the mental acumen for the position and made up with it with superior athleticism.
At minimum, the language suggested that the Cardinals didn’t trust the preparation of a player they just agreed to pay nearly a quarter-billion dollars over five years. But in a statement to ESPN, which originally reported that the language has been rescinded, the team refuted that idea.
“After seeing the distraction it created, we removed the addendum from the contract,” the team said in a statement. “It was clearly perceived in ways that were never intended. Our confidence in Kyler Murray is as high as it’s ever been and nothing demonstrates our belief in his ability to lead this team more than the commitment reflected in this contract.”
Nothing, that is, except for deliberately inserting language that clearly suggests a lack of confidence or worse. How else could the Cardinals’ front office expect an addendum demanding that their signal caller earn credit for doing his homework be perceived? It’s not an exactly a ringing endorsement and calling it NBD suggests a wild aloofness among the check-writers in Tempe.
Murray spent more than 10 minutes answering questions from media after the Cardinals finished practice on Thursday, saying he felt disrespected and blaming the media for advancing a narrative that he had gotten to where he is—the starting QB for an NFL franchise coming off a playoff year—without being on top of his game.
The problem is that neither media nor fans think that about him. The loudest questions about Murray’s game are mostly about his stature (he’s listed at 5-foot-10, 207 pounds) in a league where giants are the norm at his position. Murray’s commitment to the Cardinals was an off-season storyline, but only because he, his agent and the team made it so with public gamesmanship as they negotiated the extension behind closed doors.
Any blame for suggesting that Murray might not ball out because he lack commitment to off-field preparation rests with whoever thought it smart to put a study hall on his schedule every week and tie it to his paycheck. In case they’re still wondering: it wasn’t.