As the Cardinals tank without admitting that they’re tanking, they have another way to fuel the fire that will burn down their 2023 season.
They have a legitimate business reason for keeping their best player off the field for the entirety of the coming campaign.
As noted this week by Mike Lombardi on Pat McAfee’s show, Murray has millions in injury guarantees that will become fully guaranteed in the not-too-distant future. If a player can’t pass a physical on the date the guarantees convert, the team cannot avoid the financial commitment.
It’s not an uncommon approach. When the Colts initially benched Matt Ryan for the rest of the 2022 season, it was to avoid having his 2023 injury guarantees become fully guaranteed. When the Raiders yanked Derek Carr for Jarrett Stidham late in 2022, the goal was to preserve the ability to dump Carr (which they did) before $40 million in injury guarantees could vest.
If the Cardinals are contemplating a future without the first pick in the 2019 draft, it definitely makes good business sense to keep him on the Physically Unable to Perform list not just for the first four weeks but for the entire 2022 season.
Here’s the full breakdown of the Murray contract. He has $29.9 million in 2025 compensation that becomes fully guaranteed in March of 2024. Thus, if he suffers an injury this season and can’t pass a physical by March, the Cardinals will be on the hook for his $37 million in 2024 (that’s unavoidable at this point) and another $29.9 million in 2025. (Murray also has another $26.8 million in 2026 injury guarantees.)
Although a trade after 2023, if that’s what would happen, would shift much of the money to a new team, Murray’s new team might not want to take on nearly $67 million, fully guaranteed. Especially if he can’t pass a physical in March.
So the best way to keep their options fully open with Murray is, as Lombardi noted, to keep him off the field. That approach has the very important added benefit of entrusting the quarterback function to Josh Dobbs and/or Clayton Tune — ensuring that the Cardinals will sink to the bottom of the standings and, in turn, rise to the top of the 2024 draft order.
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