Were the Cardinals stupid, or brilliant, to include a homework clause in Kyler Murray’s deal?


On the surface, the decision of the Cardinals to put a homework clause in quarterback Kyler Murray‘s new contract looks like a colossal blunder. The team surely knew (or should have known) that someone would notice, and publicize, this unprecedented contract term. The team surely knew (or should have known) that Murray would look like someone who doesn’t spend enough time studying in advance of games. The team surely knew (or should have known) that it would look idiotic for giving so much money to someone who can’t be trusted to do the basic preparation work without a contractual obligation to do so.

Maybe, just maybe, the Cardinals are next-level geniuses. Maybe the Cardinals expected the blowback for Murray. Maybe they wanted it. Maybe they think that a little (or a lot) public shaming will get Murray to put in more iPad time.

Two years ago, the Packers used a first-round pick on quarterback Jordan Love with the arguable goal of lighting a fire under Aaron Rodgers. And it worked, to the tune of two straight MVPs. The reaction to the homework clause could be enough to motivate Murray to put in the effort studying film in advance of every game, to better know the strategies, coverages, tendencies, and tells of opposing players.

Watching film is tedious. It’s often boring. It requires great mental focus and concentration. But it can provide huge benefits.

For example, by studying the available film of every game that a given opponent has played, a quarterback may notice that an outside linebacker positions his feet a certain way when he’s going to rush the passer or when he’s going to drop into coverage. That one little find could be the difference between a first down or a punt, a touchdown or a field goal, a win or a loss, a playoff spot or a missed postseason, or a deep playoff run or a one-and-done.

The quarterback isn’t the only one who should be grinding film for these potential nuggets of useful information, but the quarterback helps set the tone when it comes to what should be a shared obsession with cracking the code of a given defense. And the tone gets set both for other players and for the members of the coaching staff who otherwise have plenty to do and must make time to, along with everything else, properly scour all tape in an effort to find the needle in the haystack.

Coincidentally, or not, the Cardinals have tailed off in each of Kyler Murray’s three seasons — as more film piles up and even greater discipline and dedication is needed to master it all. Coincidentally, or not, the teams coached by Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona and Texas Tech have had strong to quite strong starts that became anemic finishes.

It’s about working hard and working smart. Murray apparently has been doing neither, or at least not enough for the team’s liking. If they put the homework clause in the contract knowing it would get out, that it would prompt widespread criticism of him, and that it would potentially spark a fresh determination by Murray to have a new commitment to studying film, it could be one of the smartest things the team has ever done.