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Kyler, The Cardinals, and Organizational Trust

In signing Kyler Murray to his recently-inked $230 million contract, the Arizona Cardinals added a clause that created a bit of a media firestorm throughout the past 72 hours. Reportedly the team added a clause that required Kyler to conduct four hours of “independent study” per week, without distraction from a second screen, television, or social media, in addition to his official team preparation activities. After the leaked provision started gaining massive media attention, Kyler conducted an impromptu press conference to address the clause, where he called the media attention “disrespectful” and dismissed the idea that he does not prepare for games in the same way other quarterbacks do. After Kyler’s press conference, the team announced they removed the clause, citing the distraction it created as a motivating factor. All the hoopla surrounding the unusual insertion into this contract notwithstanding, the mere fact that it became a tangible clause in the contract means serious trouble for the Cardinals’ relationship with Murray going forward.

Organizational trust in leadership must be absolute to optimize performance in any industry. Any indication from those rowing the boat that they don’t believe in the people charged with steering the ship and the odds of a disjointed journey go up exponentially. In such a high-profile industry as the NFL, it has become vital that the team has full and complete trust in its GM, Head Coach, and Quarterback. Further, that trust must run from the ownership level down, from the rest of the team back up, and must be confidently expressed both internally and externally. Speculation, especially in the aftermath of failure, will naturally run rampant, but the teams that are able to maintain this trust when they know they have the right leaders are infinitely more likely to turn things around and succeed. Part of this means knowing that those leaders will be the ones working the hardest to correct the course, and consequently giving them the leeway to do so.

As it relates to contract negotiations, the legal professionals involved are trained to do the opposite. Agents and GC’s can never rely on unspoken trust. It’s their job to ensure, in writing, that all parties to a contract will perform to the exact standard required in exchange for payment. Only if the possibility of the specific circumstances in a subsection of a contract happening is so infinitesimally small that it need not be addressed should that clause then be excluded from the deal. This is where it becomes vital for ownership to step in and weigh the need for the clause with the risk of alienating the player. Alternatively, the GC (or whichever Assistant GC drafted the clause) should also understand the implications of that stipulation, conduct their own cost-benefit analysis, and be able to articulate those risks so their client (ownership) can make an informed decision. Clearly, in this situation, neither the ownership nor the legal team understood the blowback that something like this might create, both with the player and in the media.

By including this clause in Kyler Murray’s contract, whether in the draft or final version and whether or not it was ultimately removed, the Arizona Cardinals have clearly shown they don’t trust Kyler in the same way that every other NFL team trusts a bonafide franchise quarterback. The problem is that trust is required not only for Kyler to play (and live the rest of his life) with the freedom that the team believes he is “the guy,” but for the rest of the team and the organization to believe that he is a franchise quarterback, one that will lead them through the highs and sometimes terrible lows of the NFL schedule and ultimately to the promised land. By specifying that Kyler does his homework every week, in writing, in a $166 million guaranteed deal, that trust is broken, and it will take a long time to rebuild.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the most likely way for that to happen will be by sticking with him if things do not go according to plan. Only one team wins the Super Bowl every year, and Vegas (+3260 Super Bowl Odds according to doesn’t believe that team will be the Cardinals. In fact, they have the third-best odds in their division, which would likely mean that even a playoff birth is not guaranteed at this point. Kyler will only feel that trust from the organization if they show complete faith in him in a situation where most teams wouldn’t. In return, the team will only now be fully confident in Kyler if he, through a demonstrated work ethic and by stepping up to be a definitive leader of the team, brings them out of an adverse scenario and propels them to their definition of success, which may or may not be a Super Bowl. From where the organization (and their relationship with Kyler) sits right now, that would be quite the remarkable turnaround.

Michael DiLiello is an Army Officer transitioning to the Sports Law field and will enroll as a 1L at the University of North Carolina School of Law in the Fall of 2022. His opinions are purely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the United States Army, the Department of Defense, or any other external agency.

Twitter: @Mike_DiLiello

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