Why the Arizona Cardinals had to give Kyler Murray whatever he wanted

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kyler Murray finally got the contract he wanted on Thursday, and the Arizona Cardinals finally got the quarterback stability they've been seeking for decades.

The Cardinals didn't have a choice.

Murray's five-year extension, worth $230.5 million with $160 million guaranteed, will keep him under contract through the 2028 season. If he plays the length of the deal, he'll become the second-longest-tenured quarterback in franchise history behind Jim Hart, who played 18 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1966 to 1983.

That's one of the main reasons Arizona had to give Murray a deal.

Quarterback stability and longevity have long been an issue for the Cardinals since their move to Arizona in 1988. Carson Palmer and Kurt Warner each played five years for Arizona, and Jake Plummer played six. Murray can change that narrative, and the Cardinals knew that.

So did Murray.

In theory, the Cardinals had choices when it came to Murray. They could have waited to see how the two-time Pro Bowler played this season, then figured out his contract situation during the 2023 offseason. Or they could have decided to move on. In reality, waiting wasn't viable.

One of the biggest liabilities in the NFL is looking behind door No. 2, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. Arizona could've moved on from Murray and drafted a quarterback, signed a veteran in free agency or opted for another option on the roster, but that would've kept the Cardinals in the same cycle of mediocrity.

Murray held all the leverage when it came to his contract. Murray never mentioned a holdout, but coach Kliff Kingsbury worried during June's minicamp that it was a possibility. Murray and his team knew all about Arizona's history and what he had already done for the franchise by leading it to year-over-year-over-year improvement after it hit rock bottom in 2018, going 3-13. That season led to the Cardinals taking Murray with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

Murray hasn't been perfect in his three years with the Cardinals, but he has been as good as, if not better than, any other quarterback they've ever had. He's the only player in NFL history with 70 touchdown passes and 20 rushing touchdowns in his first three seasons. He's the only Cardinals quarterback to throw for 3,500 yards and 20 touchdown passes in three straight seasons.

His 13,266 combined passing and rushing yards is the third most in league history during a player's first three seasons. That total ranks behind only Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. Add in his two Pro Bowl nods and his Rookie of the Year trophy in 2019 and the Cardinals just paid one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.

Murray, however, comes with a few concerns. He has suffered injuries the past two seasons, impacting not just how he played but the trajectory of the Cardinals' season. A high ankle sprain last season derailed what could've been an MVP-caliber campaign. His Total QBR (65.1), completion percentage (73%) and yards per attempt (8.9) in September and October last season were all ranked in the top 5. For the rest of the year they all dropped (47.5, 65% and 6.7, respectively).

Kingsbury has long talked about Murray improving his body language on the field, going as far as showing the quarterback videos of how Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson conduct themselves.

Despite the concerns surrounding him, Murray has stood out with his play, whether it's a juke, run or throw. He showed he could make the tough passes this season, with a completion percentage 3.9% higher than expected -- the second-highest mark among qualified quarterbacks behind Cincinnati's Joe Burrow.

Murray's contract extension brings expectations. Arizona has struggled to finish the past two seasons, wrapping up 2020 by losing five of its final seven and six of its final nine, and then finishing last season by dropping four of its last five, including an embarrassing blowout in the wild-card round to the Los Angeles Rams.

To prove Murray was worthy of a contract -- one that gives him the second-highest guaranteed money behind Deshaun Watson ($230 million) and the second-highest average per year behind Rodgers ($50.3 million) -- Murray needs to do more than get Arizona back to the postseason in 2022. He needs to win a playoff game. At least one. That won't be easy without his best offensive playmaker, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is suspended for the first six games of the season, not to mention bucking the recent history of going into a tailspin in the second half of seasons.

Murray earned his money and was going to get it at some point.

Now he has to show he's worth it.