NASHVILLE — Kyler Murray had finally made it to the “Instagram” station, nearly two hours after his name was the first to be called in this year’s NFL draft. It was one of about a dozen stops where the newest draft picks sign, pose and answer questions. As the former Oklahoma QB prepared to take photographs with a Cardinals hat in front of a neon background, he was asked for his name, which was probably the only surprising thing that happened concerning Murray on Thursday night.
“Kyler,” he said, pausing. “Murray.”
Then he posed, holding the cap in front of his chest, turning in every direction, swapping it for a football. As he began the photo shoot, Drake’s “God’s Plan” blared from a speaker. Fitting, because this all seemed ordained for months. Cardinals hire Kliff Kingsbury … Kyler Murray announces he’s fully committed to becoming an NFL quarterback … GM Steve Keim declares Josh Rosen his team’s QB “right now, for sure.”
Murray, of course, had options. The Oakland As, who selected him with the ninth pick in the 2018 MLB draft, gave him a $4.6 million signing bonus plus an additional offer of $14 million in guaranteed cash in January if he stuck with baseball, The MMQB’s Robert Klemko reported. Scouts who came through Norman, Okla., knew that football was his truest love. But who would throw away what he had already secured in baseball if it wouldn’t be worth it to play football? Kingsbury’s entrée into the NFL, to the team that held the No. 1 overall pick, offered Murray a sure thing.
“Finally being able to play for Coach Kingsbury,” Murray said, “is something we’ve been talking about for a long time.”
Kingsbury began courting Murray when he was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, and then as the head coach at Texas Tech. After Kingsbury was hired by the Cardinals, video surfaced of him telling Lubbock TV station KLBK that Murray is so good, he would take him with the first pick in the NFL draft. How convenient, that he was then hired by the team that held the first pick.
Which is why the months of poorly executed smokescreens by the Cardinals were so hard to believe. They made a non-traditional head coach hire, trusting in his eye for QBs and wanting him to invigorate their offense. It’s only logical that who he envisioned running his offense—Kyler Murray!—would come up when he was interviewing for the job, something the team would have had to weigh then, considering they traded up for UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen in the first round just last year, and ran him out for 13 starts as a rookie. As further evidence, just listen how Murray talked about how Kingsbury sees him mere hours after being drafted.
“For a quarterback, its nice to know he’s behind you,” he said of Kingsbury. “He’s fully supportive of who you are and what you’re going to be doing on the field. Knowing he’ll let me play and be me is probably the biggest thing.”
Instead of playing it coy, which is a perfectly understandable strategy in this situation, the Cardinals were clumsy. They posted Kingsbury’s quote, “Josh is our guy,” in a February tweet styled like one of those Valentine’s Day cards you exchange in elementary school; they reassured Rosen that he was their guy; and team employees even mocked on social media mock drafts that assigned Murray to the Cardinals. (Those mocks ended up looking pretty good.)
What happens to Rosen is the big question now. He wasn’t moved in the weeks leading up to the draft, despite the fact that most teams around the NFL already figured the Cardinals were taking Murray. He wasn’t moved after the Murray pick was made last night, though the idea of Arizona getting a first-rounder back for Rosen seemed to be a non-starter for other teams. Would the Cardinals take a second- or third-rounder for him, or would they keep both QBs?
Perhaps they could, particularly given the way Rosen has handled the months of Murray speculation (without issue so far). But would that be the smartest way to team-build? The Cardinals already have been redundant with the use of their first-round picks and could certainly use some draft capital back to address other glaring positions of need. The risk in not having moved Rosen by the end of the draft’s first day is that more teams have now filled their QB need through the draft, thus driving Rosen’s market down. On Thursday night, Keim began talking about QB depth, which is a fair consideration—but that is a quite unusual way to view a player you drafted 10th overall just one year ago.
The Cardinals, though, clearly believe that Murray is a transcendent player, one who can take their organization to the next level, one whose style Kingsbury wants to build around. And if you believe that, then you can see how they’d view this unorthodox decision as the right one. But can we all agree that this must have been one of the most clumsily executed acts of subterfuge in NFL history, which so far hasn’t netted them anything other than the player they always had the right to draft first overall?
In the final hours before Thursday, Murray proceeded as he had the past several months: keeping his circle tight, and saying little. His name initially appeared on the list of prospects attending a community event in Nashville on Wednesday morning to assemble food kits for a local food bank. The 21 other players attending the draft all were there and participated in a 45-minute media interview session afterward. Murray, however, chose to arrive later in the day on Wednesday, flying in on a private plane.
On Thursday evening, he dressed up in a pink suit inspired by his favorite movie, The Great Gatsby, and walked the red carpet with his parents. As he neared the end of the carpet, a PR escort gestured toward the pen of print media and explained this was his next stop.
“Talk to them?” he asked.
“Do you want to talk to them?” she replied.
Murray had already done a few on-camera interviews, but now, he turned the other way. He then posed for one more photo of his own—an Oklahoma student who is the director of content for the football team was trailing him for the night—and then waited for a golf cart that would take him into the green room.
After his name was picked, though, Murray soaked up the attention with a smile. In his press conference, he even good-naturedly mentioned that there was a Cardinals fan in the crowd in Nashville who told Murray they didn’t want him—they wanted Nick Bosa. Can’t please everyone, he said with a grin. Perhaps Murray could finally relax now that the drawn-out draft process was over. Or, maybe, it was that he could finally say out loud what it sure seems like he knew all along: that he was going to be the next Cardinals QB.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” Murray said. “I’m moreso glad I’m going to the Cardinals. That’s where I wanted to go play, and the fact that they had the No. 1 pick, everything. God works in mysterious ways.”