Kyler Murray

Browns, Colts Did Not Match Cardinals’ J.J. Watt Offer

The Cardinals came out of the J.J. Watt sweepstakes a surprise winner. It took a two-year, $31MM deal, with $23MM guaranteed, for Watt to head to the desert. This was not the only offer the former Texans great received.

A report indicated the three-time Defensive Player of the Year turned down more money from the Browns and Colts. However, that may not be the case. Both 2020 playoff teams did not top the Cardinals’ offer, according to cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot and The Athletic’s Stephen Holder (on Twitter).

The Browns were viewed as an early Watt finalist, and while the team may well have been in it until the end, Cabot notes Cleveland’s offer did not reach the $15MM-AAV place. The Browns’ proposal likely landed in the $12MM-per-year range, per Cabot. Under Chris Ballard, the Colts are known for their patience with free agency and trades — as was the case with the team’s Matthew Stafford talks — and Holder wonders if the team was even a high bidder for Watt.

Watt targeted a team with a sound quarterback situation. The Cardinals have that box checked in Kyler Murray, with Watt indicating Tuesday that his belief in the young dual-threat star helped lead him to Arizona (Twitter links via ESPN.com’s Josh Weinfuss). Cardinals DC Vance Joseph, who was with the Texans during Watt’s early years in Houston, is believed to have led the Cards’ recruitment effort, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Watt confirmed Joseph was a key factor in his decision to head west.

Cleveland still intends on adding a major piece to team with Myles Garrett, while Indianapolis currently resides in the top five in cap space. The Browns and Colts, respectively, have Olivier Vernon and Justin Houston on track for free agency. The Colts have not ruled out re-signing Houston — whom they gave a two-year, $24MM contract in 2019 — but he will turn 32 this year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Murray, Njoku, Contracts

Before he was the first overall pick of the Cardinals in the 2019 NFL Draft, Kyler Murray was the ninth overall pick of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Oakland A’s. Then he went on to win the Heisman Trophy, causing him to rocket up NFL draft boards. Even after winning the Heisman Murray initially was reported to be pursuing baseball over football, but obviously that changed when it became clear just how high he’d be drafted. We haven’t heard a ton about his baseball passions since, but he made it clear he isn’t over the game in interviews this past week. “I would love to” play baseball again one day Murray said on The Pat McAfee Show, via Jeremy Cluff of the Arizona Republic. “I think it’s still there because I’ve been doing it my whole life. It wasn’t like I have to turn this off to be elite at football.”

When asked if he could see himself playing football and baseball at the same time one day soon, Murray said “I hope so. I hope so. I mean, I would love to. I think that would be good for everybody … I think it is tough because I play quarterback.” He also added that walking away from Oakland was “definitely the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.” The Cardinals likely aren’t as enthused about the possibility, and it’s specifically in his contract that he’s not allowed to play baseball. Maybe when it comes time for Murray to get a contract extension from Arizona, he’ll look to negotiate a clause that allows him to try his hand at baseball? It’s certainly fun to think about, and I think every fan would be hoping he can become the next Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders.

Here’s more from around the league as we officially turn our attention toward the offseason:

  • David Njoku had a rocky season with the Browns, even as the team had their most success in decades. The drafting of Harrison Bryant and signing of Austin Hooper reduced his role on offense, and Njoku demanded to be traded this past summer, then changed his mind on that demand, then apparently changed his mind once again and wanted to be traded in October. Obviously Cleveland didn’t want to deal him, and it looked like everything had more or less been worked out, but Njoku fanned the flames again this past week. “That’s a good question,” Njoku said recently on the Jim Rome Show when asked if he’s in the right spot, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. “I’m not going to answer that right now. I have no comment towards that at this moment,” Njoku said cryptically. The 29th overall pick of the 2017 draft added that everything would work itself out in the “near future.” Thanks to his fifth-year option the tight end is under contract for 2021 at a hair over $6MM, although that’s not guaranteed. If they choose to keep him at that number, it sounds like another trade request could be in the cards.
  • Reserve/futures deals are non-guaranteed pacts to keep unheralded players a part of a team’s offseason 90-man roster, so they usually don’t come with any bonuses or guaranteed money. When they do, that makes them a lot more notable, and Field Yates of ESPN.com recently tweeted out this cycle’s biggest. Cornerback Grant Haley got $35.7K from the Saints, safety Marqui Christian and cornerback Xavier Crawford got $35K and $31.3K respectively from the Bears, long snapper Dan Godsil got $27.4K from the Bengals, and tight end Tyree Jackson got $25.2K from the Eagles while punter Arryn Siposs got $25K from Philly. All these guys would seem to have a better than normal chance of cracking next year’s 53. Haley saw a lot of run his first two years in the league with the Giants, and was up and down from New Orleans’ practice squad in 2020. If Cincy is giving a reserve/futures long snapper $25K, you’ve gotta figure they think there’s a good chance he’s their guy next year. Jackson is a notable name since he’s the former University of Buffalo star quarterback who has since transitioned to tight end.
  • Speaking of relatively minor contracts, Yates also tweeted the details for the recent extensions for Raiders quarterback Nathan Peterman and 49ers long snapper Taybor Pepper. Peterman got a guaranteed $1MM base salary on his one-year deal, a $25K workout bonus, and a max value of $2.775MM with incentives. Pepper got two-years, $2.08MM with an $80K signing bonus and $220K of his $920K salary for 2021 guaranteed. It’s pretty eyebrow-raising to see Peterman get his $1MM guaranteed considering he’s thrown all of five passes the past two seasons, but Jon Gruden clearly loves the guy. This would suggest he’s got a good shot to hold the clipboard for Derek Carr, or whoever is the Raiders’ starter next year.

Injury Updates: Goff, Rams, Murray, Cardinals, 49ers, Mixon, Bengals, Watkins, Chiefs, Edelman, Patriots

Things have gotten ugly for Jared Goff and the Rams’ offense the last couple of weeks, with back to back losses to the Jets and Seahawks in which Goff played poorly. Making matters worse, Los Angeles’ quarterback dislocated and broke his thumb during the loss to Seattle. It looks like there are a wide range of outcomes moving forward, with everything from Goff playing this Sunday to being out for the remainder of the season being on the table. Goff will require surgery on the thumb at some point but he’s hoping to push it back until after the season, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports (Twitter video link).

Rapsheet says that Goff is “adamant” about pushing to play in Week 17 and that he at least has a “shot” to be under center. If the Bears lose to the Packers on Sunday then the Rams are in the playoffs no matter what, but if Chicago beats Green Bay then the Rams will need to beat the Cardinals to get in. It sounds like Goff is going to try to push through and suit up for the playoffs even if he isn’t able to be out there on Sunday. Goff is meeting with specialist Dr. Steven Shin today, the same doctor who treated Drew Brees‘ thumb injury last year, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Obviously Brees missed a handful of games with that injury last year, although hopefully for the Rams this isn’t as severe. If Goff is forced to miss the game against Arizona, it’ll mean the first regular season NFL action for former Wake Forest and AAF star John Wolford.

Here are more health issues from around the league entering the final week of the season:

  • Goff isn’t the only banged up quarterback in this pivotal game. Kyler Murray has already dealt with a lingering shoulder injury this season, and he also hurt his leg at the end of Arizona’s Week 16 loss to San Francisco. Speaking to the media Monday head coach Kliff Kingsbury was vague, only deeming it a “lower leg” injury and saying they won’t put Murray out there if he can’t be effective. If the Cards win on Sunday, they’re in. If they don’t, they’re out. In a game of this magnitude, you have to figure Murray is going to play if it’s at all possible, but right now Kingsbury is saying it’s up in the air. This will be a situation to monitor closely, but either way it sounds like Murray is going to be at less than 100 percent against Aaron Donald and co.
  • One last dispatch from the NFC West. The 49ers picked up an upset of the Cardinals, but their injury-plagued season continued. They dropped at least two more starters, as rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk and left tackle Trent Williams both won’t play in Week 17 due to injuries they suffered against Arizona, Kyle Shanahan said Monday. Shanahan also said he’d be shocked if Jimmy Garoppolo plays this weekend, meaning C.J. Beathard should get another crack at it. Aiyuk has flashed a lot of promise, and 49ers fans have to be excited about his 2021 potential. It’s possible we’ve seen Garoppolo play his last snap as a 49er.
  • Joe Mixon‘s 2020 campaign is officially in the books. The Bengals running back won’t play this weekend, head coach Zac Taylor confirmed Monday. Mixon hasn’t played since all the way back in Week 6 due to a foot injury, but the team kept insisting he was only week to week this whole time. Mixon signed a four-year, $48MM extension back in September, so he’s in Cincy for the long-haul.
  • Chiefs fans can breathe a little easier. Receiver Sammy Watkins went down with a calf injury yesterday, but Rapoport tweets it isn’t believed to be major. Given Watkins’ injury history, that’s a big relief. Rapoport writes that Watkins will rest in Week 17, but that there’s a “good chance” he’s back for Kansas City’s first playoff game.
  • Another player whose season, and quite possibly career, is over: Patriots receiver Julian Edelman. Rapoport tweets that Edelman won’t be activated for tonight’s Monday Night Football showdown with the Bills, and that it’s “unlikely” he plays next week either. Edelman is under contract for next season but he’ll turn 35 in May, so it’s entirely fair to wonder whether he’ll end up retiring. The legendary Patriot, who has spent all 12 years of his career in New England, was limited to only six games this year due to a knee injury.

NFC Notes: Clowney, Cards, Giants, Panthers

A notable development transpired in Jadeveon Clowney‘s near-fourth-month free agency odyssey Tuesday. The Browns’ Olivier Vernon restructure points to them giving the Vernon-Myles Garrett pairing another year and bowing out on Clowney. This would eliminate a high-paying suitor from the sweepstakes. The Seahawks remain in the running for Clowney, but Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes they are not going to offer a deal in the $15-$16MM-AAV ballpark like they did earlier this offseason. Seattle’s offer in this neighborhood occurred several weeks ago, but the team is still in need at edge rusher. Clowney now has an offer in hand from the Raiders, but they were viewed as a “distant third.” However, with the Browns perhaps out, the Raiders may have moved up to second. At just more than $13MM in cap space, the Seahawks hold more than the Raiders ($8MM).

Here is the latest from the NFC:

  • Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins lined up as teammates for the first time, with the new Cardinals duo joining several teammates in Texas for a workout. Despite the NFLPA issuing directives for players not to gather for workouts, as the COVID-19 pandemic sets records (with Texas being a hot spot) in recent days. But other teams — most notably the Buccaneers — have seen select personnel conven for pre-training camp work. The Cards’ workout took place nearby where Murray went to high school, just north of Dallas.
  • Seahawks second-round pick Marquise Blair will compete with Bradley McDougald for the team’s starting strong safety job, opposite Quandre Diggs, but Brady Henderson of ESPN.com notes the second-year player is also a candidate to be Seattle’s nickel back. Blair played just 219 snaps as a rookie, though Pete Carroll said he is “very interested” in getting him on the field this season. Ugo Amadi, a 2019 fourth-rounder, will serve as Blair’s primary competition for Seattle’s nickel role. Amadi played just 76 defensive snaps as a rookie.
  • The Giants hired their first female scout, naming Hannah Burnett as their Midlands scout. Burnett’s most notable NFL experience came with the Falcons, for whom she attended pro days and the Combine. In addition to Burnett, the Giants named Marquis Pendleton their northeast area scout and added Nick Williams as an offensive assistant. Pendleton has worked in a different scouting capacity with the team since 2016; Williams spent the past three seasons as Southern Illinois’ wide receivers coach.
  • The Panthers did not renew the contracts of scouts Don Warren and Clyde Powers, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets. Both staffers were Dave Gettleman hires. Warren was a three-time Super Bowl champion as a tight end with the Redskins, for whom he also worked as a scout prior to his Panthers stay.

Kyler Murray Contractually Can’t Play Baseball

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray caused a bit of a kerfuffle earlier this week when he indicated he still had interest in playing baseball at some point. “I think I could. … Athletically, I think yeah, I could do it. I’ve been playing both my whole life. I would love to add that to the resume,” he told Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic (Twitter link).

Fortunately for Cardinals fans, they don’t have to worry about that anytime soon. Murray’s NFL contract specifically bars him from pursuing his other sport in any form, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Rapoport reviewed the language of Murray’s deal, which rules out “any baseball related activity, tryout, workout, scrimmage, any exhibition, from any baseball team in any baseball league.”

Murray, of course, was previously a two-sport athlete. He was drafted early in the first round by the Oakland Athletics a few years ago, and until he took over for Baker Mayfield as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, it was widely assumed he would pursue a MLB career. Then he ended up exceeding all expectations in his one season of college football, winning the Heisman Trophy. After leaving his future up in the air for a while, Murray eventually fully committed to football and announced he would withdraw from his deal with Oakland back in February of last year.

A couple months later, the Cardinals drafted him first overall. Murray had an up and down rookie season in his first year playing under Kliff Kingsbury, but he showed plenty of flashes. The potential Rookie of the Year, he finished with 24 total touchdowns and had some huge games. It isn’t totally unheard of for a player to compete in both sports, as Deion Sanders famously played in the NFL and MLB at the same time. That being said, it would be much tougher for a quarterback to attempt such a thing. Maybe one day Murray will find his way back to the diamond, but it doesn’t sound like it’ll be anytime soon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Draft Rumors: Lions, Giants, Dolphins

Here’s the latest NFL Draft buzz from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller:

  • Miller would be positively stunned if the Bengals don’t draft LSU quarterback Joe Burrow No. 1 overall and the Redskins don’t grab Ohio State defensive end Chase Young with the No. 2 pick.
  • With that in mind, Miller feels the draft truly starts at No. 3 overall, where the Lions pick. Sources tell Miller that they’ll look heavily at Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah and Auburn defensive lineman Derrick Brown. Then again, it’s a prime trade-back spot – teams like the Dolphins, Chargers, and Panthers could move up to land a QB.
  • Unless new head coach Joe Judge sways him in a different direction, Giants GM Dave Gettleman is expected to look at edge-rushers, left tackles, and wide receivers with the No. 4 pick. “He can’t help himself with linemen, so slot your top-rated offensive tackle there,” one scout who previously worked with Gettleman said. Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr. and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas rank among the top tackles in this year’s crop.
  • No team has done more work on Oregon’s Justin Herbert than the Dolphins, who own the No. 5 pick and two more selections later on, Miller writes. The Dolphins will almost certainly go QB here, then shift their attention to offensive tackle, edge-rusher, and running back help.
  • The same source who tipped Miller off to the Cardinals‘ love of Kyler Murray last year says they’re wild about Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. But, internally, they also feel that the offensive line need is too big to overlook.
  • The Raiders, with two picks in the first round, are looking to go defense and wide receiver, Miller hears.
  • The Bills are already nervous about other teams leapfrogging them for wide receivers, Miller hears. The Bills own the No. 22 overall pick and nine total selections in the draft.
  • The Patriots are impossible to read, but none of Miller’s sources believe that they’ll draft a quarterback early on. Tom Brady has vowed to continue playing, but he’ll also explore his options in free agency.

Injury Updates: Ingram, Haskins, Murray

Here are the key injuries which we’ve seen some reporting on:

  • The Ravens officially clinched the top seed in the AFC with their win over the Browns on Sunday, but Baltimore fans were left holding their breath when running back Mark Ingram went down with a calf injury. Head coach John Harbaugh told reporters after the game there’s no structural damage, but a source told Adam Schefter of ESPN.com that Ingram suffered a calf strain (Twitter link). Ingram was wearing a walking boot after a game, via a tweet from Josina Anderson of ESPN. Harbaugh was trying to sound optimistic, but calf strains can linger. Fortunately for Baltimore, he’ll have Week 17 and a first-round bye to rest.
  • Dwayne Haskins has been getting a lot better recently, so it was unfortunate to see him go down with an ankle injury during the Redskins’ loss to the Giants. Interestingly, Haskins said after the game that he lobbied to return, but owner Dan Snyder personally told him not to go back in, per John Keim of ESPN.com. Normally it’d be unusual for an owner to be consulting directly with a player during a game, but this is the Redskins we’re talking about. Washington is in line for the second overall pick right now, and they could opt to be conservative and sit Haskins in Week 17.
  • Speaking of rookie quarterbacks, Kyler Murray was also knocked out on Sunday with a hamstring injury. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters after the game he wasn’t sure if Murray would be able to play in Week 17 against the Rams. Murray had a large wrap on his hamstring and if it was bad enough to knock him out immediately he could be up against it to play next week. Brett Hundley, who finished off Arizona’s upset win over the Seahawks, would start next week if he isn’t ready.
  • One last quarterback update, as Mason Rudolph was sidelined with a shoulder injury shortly after being reinserted for a benched Devlin Hodges. The Steelers’ quarterback situation is an absolute mess right now as they prepare for a must-win game against the Ravens. Hodges came back in for Rudolph, and resumed struggling. Rudolph provided an instant spark after relieving Hodges, so he’ll almost certainly start against Baltimore if he’s healthy. Rudolph was seen leaving the stadium with his arm in a sling, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter link).
  • The Titans can clinch a playoff berth with a Week 17 win over the Texans, and fortunately they’ll be getting a boost to their offense. Running back Derrick Henry was inactive for their loss to the Saints on Sunday, but he is expected to play against Houston, a source told Schefter (Twitter link). Henry has been dealing with a hamstring issue.
  • The winner of the Week 17 game between the 49ers and Seahawks will determine who wins the NFC West and in turn hosts a playoff game, and both sides are banged up. San Francisco pass-rusher Dee Ford has missed most of the last month with a hamstring injury and he’s not expected to play against Seattle, a source told Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports. They gave up a second-round pick to land Ford this offseason, then signed him to a massive extension, and he’s been a bit of a disappointment. Fortunately for the 49ers, the Seahawks are dealing with even more significant health issues.

Cardinals GM Steve Keim On Drake, Fitzgerald, Offseason

It was somewhat surprising when the Cardinals traded for Kenyan Drake in advance of this year’s deadline, given that Arizona was clearly not going to make a postseason run and given that Drake is eligible for unrestricted free agency in March. But GM Steve Keim saw something he liked in the former Dolphins RB and wanted to secure exclusive negotiating rights with him.

Drake has not disappointed, averaging 4.8 yards-per-carry in his six games in Arizona to go along with five scores and 22 receptions for 130 yards. Keim touched on Drake’s future with the team and several other key issues facing the Cardinals this offseason, including Larry Fitzgerald‘s future, in an interview with Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.

On the Drake trade:

“The mindset of going into the trade, it wasn’t done because we had two backs that were injured and was sort of a stop-gap situation. If that was a the case, my mindset was I would’ve signed a guy off the street. We truly thought this was the type of player Kenyan Drake was. That’s why we made trade and hope this was the kind of success he would have.”

On his hopes of re-signing Drake, and when he might try to do it:

“As far as waiting until after the season (to re-sign Drake), that’s not necessarily the thing either. I would certainly love to have Kenyan Drake back. I think he fits in this offense and he really has given us a spark in many ways.”

On Fitzgerald’s future (for Fitzgerald’s thoughts, see here):

“We would love to have him back. We all know what he brings to the organization. But the one thing you want to do with a player like him is give him the respect he deserves. Allow him to make that decision on his own. But I will say this. This is maybe the most fun I’ve seen him have in the last four years. He’s playing at a high level. I know he likes [head coach] Kliff [Kingsbury] and I know he likes this offense. Doesn’t hurt to have a guy (in quarterback Kyler Murray) who can spin it to him like this too.”

Keim said he will look to upgrade the Cardinals’ O-line this offseason, though he thinks the team’s high sack total is partly due to Murray’s style of play:

“I think Kyler would be the first to tell you there have been quite a few sacks given up that are on him. There has been times when I thought our offensive line has given him the type of protection he’s needed.”

On Murray himself:

“[T]here is no doubt in my mind we hit it through the roof. It’s one thing to be ultra-talented, but the guys who are the great ones, just when everybody thinks they have worked hard and done enough, those guys go above and beyond. There are up late night watching film, trying to find little tells that people don’t see. Just so the speed of the game slows down.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cardinals’ Keim On Kyler Murray, Josh Rosen

The Cardinals completely revamped their quarterback room this offseason by drafting Kyler Murray No. 1 overall. Drafting Murray meant ditching another talented young quarterback in Josh Rosen, which raised some eyebrows around the NFL. 

Here’s a look at Keim’s thoughts on that situation, and more, via The Ringer’s Robert Mays:

On drafting Murray and dealing Rosen:

You have to make the tough decisions and avoid the outside noise— ‘Why’d you give up on this guy? Why would you trade this guy?‘…It’s unprecedented. I took [Rosen] in the top 10. I just felt that [Murray] was a generational talent that I just couldn’t pass up.”

On Murray’s game tape from Oklahoma:

Every game, it was the same thing. He did something multiple times that you either said, ‘Wow’ or [I] had seen very few times in my scouting career….“For a lot of reasons, I didn’t want to like [him, but I did].”

On new head coach Kliff Kingsbury:

They thought he was a guy that had enough of a swag to him that the players respected him. [The Texas Tech team] looked to him for advice. He didn’t just concentrate on the offensive side of the ball.”

On Murray’s progress, so far:

I guess time will tell. But I certainly like the early returns.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Rodgers, Cardinals, Panthers

After playing behind Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, Cardinals quarterback Brett Hundley is looking forward to providing teammate Kyler Murray with some essential wisdom. However, the 26-year-old made it clear that he’s not just going to hand the starting gig to the first-overall pick.

“The knowledge that I have, I’m able to pass it along to [Murray], especially through this journey of his because the NFL isn’t a sprint. It’s a long distance marathon,” Hundley said (via Jelani Scott of NFL.com). “For me, my goal has always been to start, no matter what position it’s in. I don’t play to be second. So I think that’s my number one goal, to get that starting job, and at the same time, it’s a competition for a reason.”

Hundley’s only extended stint as a starter came in 2017, when he started nine of his 11 appearances for the Packers. That season, Hundley completed 60.8-percent of his passes for 1,836 yards, nine touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He also added another 270 rushing yards and two scores on 36 carries.

Let’s check out some more notes from around the NFC…

  • With Aaron Rodgers apparently tuning out Mike McCarthy‘s play calls, many pundits wondered how the Packers quarterback would handle a brand-new head coach. Well, Albert Breer of SI.com says the franchise quarterback is working with Matt LaFleur on a compromise. LaFleur’s system is intended to take decision-making off the quarterback’s list of responsibilities, all while allowing the offense to run quickly and more efficiently. The team is planning on using the “double call” method that was made popular by Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, although they’ll also provide Rodgers with the freedom to adjust from there. As Breer writes, the ideal scenario is “giving Rodgers the option, but not the obligation, to make changes on the fly.”
  • Breer writes that the Panthers had an under-the-radar front office hiring this week when they added Taylor Rajack as their new director of analytics. The 27-year-old previously served on the Eagles’ analytics staff, and Philly has quickly established themselves as one of the NFL leaders in advanced stats. Breer notes that Panthers coach Ron Rivera has previously embraced the use of analytics, while new owner David Tepper made it a priority in his front office.
  • 49ers kicker Robbie Gould isn’t backing off his trade demand, and he provided some insight on the situation earlier today.