TEMPE, Ariz. — Kliff Kingsbury got his guy.
The Arizona Cardinals selected Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the first overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday, uniting Murray with Kingsbury, who unsuccessfully recruited the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to Texas Tech while he was coach there.
“Cannot wait,” Murray said. “Me and him have had a relationship since I was like 15 years old. It’s something we’ve talked about for a long time. It’s a long time coming. God works in mysterious ways. For me to be playing for him now, it’s a surreal feeling.”
Kingsbury said he was “obviously excited” to finally land Murray, whom he first started recruiting when Murray was a sophomore in high school.
The Cardinals’ next order of business is to decide what to do with Josh Rosen, their first-round pick and starting quarterback in 2018. They did not trade him before drafting Murray, adding fuel to the speculation that they could keep both on the roster through organized team activities, minicamp and, potentially, training camp.
General manager Steve Keim said he received trade calls for Rosen, but none were “meaningful enough” for Arizona to consider parting ways with Rosen because of the depth he provides at quarterback.
Keim also said he’s not concerned that the Cardinals’ leverage to trade Rosen was diminished after teams such as the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, who both were reportedly interested in trading for Rosen, drafted quarterbacks. Another team reportedly in the market for a quarterback, the Miami Dolphins, is “investigating all avenues” when it comes to Rosen, Dolphins GM Chris Grier said Thursday night.
Kyler Murray says he is excited to play for Kliff Kingsbury and be implemented into the Cardinals’ offense.
“Bottom line is, Josh is a really good football player,” Keim said. “We’re not going to get in the business of just letting good football players walk out of here. I think the one thing we all have to keep in mind, and we’ve certainly done our research, over the past three years, 19 starting quarterbacks have missed at least three games. OK? Out of those 19 starters, 14 of those teams missed the playoffs, which to me is a direct correlation of not having backups, not having good players in terms of depth. And then, when you really look at it as well, the guys who have been injured missed an average of 4.6 games due to injury.
“I have a personal stake in it from the fact that I remember in 2014 limping into the playoffs with our third-string quarterback. You can’t have enough good depth. We’ve talked about that over and over in here. Needs constantly change. Those needs could change at that position. But we know that we got a very good player in Josh Rosen here.”
However, it’s Murray who is considered the Cardinals’ starter of the future, even though Kingsbury said he wouldn’t discuss who would be the first-team quarterback.
“We’re working through that,” Kingsbury said.
Murray has known Kingsbury since his sophomore year at Allen High School in Texas, when Kingsbury began recruiting him to Texas A&M. Kingsbury took the head-coaching job at Texas Tech the next year and continued to recruit Murray, but to no avail. However, their relationship remained strong.
“He’s always been very fond of me, and I respect that,” Murray said of Kingsbury at the NFL scouting combine in February. “I’ve always never taken that for granted. He’s always someone I can go to if I ever need anything. Like I said, it’d be fun. It’d be a great deal if I was picked No. 1.”
Thursday’s move to draft Murray was expected for months.
He was first linked to Arizona shortly after the Cardinals hired Kingsbury on Jan. 8. A video resurfaced from October of Kingsbury, when he was still head coach at Texas Tech, saying if he had the first overall pick, he’d take Murray. The comment was made in the lead-up to Texas Tech’s game against Oklahoma. By happenstance, Kingsbury, who was fired by Texas Tech after six seasons in November, found himself with the first overall pick.
“I didn’t know what to think, honestly,” Murray said. “I don’t really remember when, but I was a little up in the air on what I was doing. So it all kind of worked out. Like I said, God works in mysterious ways, and me choosing to play football and Coach Kingsbury getting the job with Arizona, us having that relationship for years now, it’s crazy to think that now he is coaching me.”
Murray was a first-round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 2018, but after deciding to play football instead of baseball, he signed with Kingsbury’s agent, Erik Burkhardt of Select Sports.
However, talk of Murray to the Cardinals heated up at the combine.
Murray met with the Cardinals there and then had a top-30 visit to Arizona on April 10.
Last season, while leading the Sooners to the College Football Playoff semifinals, Murray accounted for 5,362 yards from scrimmage. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He also ran for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“I’ve been doing this over 20 years,” Keim said. “I’ve seen guys who have thrown it like him. I’ve seen guys who can run it like him. But I can tell you I haven’t seen anybody that can do the combination that he brings to the table. The ability to throw the football with timing, accuracy and touch, and to be able to run the football, extend players and create like he does out of the pocket, we’re extremely excited about Kyler. He’s a fantastic player. He’s dynamic.
“Again, in the end, our goal was to take a player that would improve this organization and give us the biggest chance to succeed moving forward, and that was Kyler Murray.”
Keim said the decision to pick Murray was “very easy,” especially after watching tape of him. At first, Keim said, he was “reluctant” to study Murray and avoid falling in love with him. But Keim failed at that. The more tape of Murray he studied, the more he liked– and loved — him, which showed Keim that Murray was the “right guy” for Arizona.
Murray is the 22nd Heisman Trophy winner to go first overall, and second in as many seasons after fellow Sooners QB Baker Mayfield went to Cleveland in 2018.
The 5-foot-10 Murray will run Kingsbury’s version of the Air Raid, a scheme he gained experience operating at Oklahoma.
“He was the funnest guy I watched on tape,” Keim said. “If I wrote ‘wow’ 100 times, that probably wasn’t enough. It was amazing the things he did on tape.
“In this day and age, you have to be able to extend with your feet and make plays out of the pocket, and I certainly have got tired of facing a guy that has similar skills over and over, and unfortunately, usually on the losing end of it,” he said, referring to Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. “Now we have [a] guy that can be a weapon with his feet, his arm. And he isn’t just a runner. The guy is a player that looks to throw first. He’s got tremendous accuracy. You talk about the height being a detriment. It really isn’t when you watch the tape. If you do your homework, there are 6-foot-5 quarterbacks in this draft who had 12 balls batted down. He had five balls batted down.”
At the combine, Murray said he’d be “very comfortable” running Kingsbury’s offense because of their history and relationship. Murray also said the idea of him paired with Kingsbury “would be nice.”
Throughout the past three months, however, the Cardinals have vocalized their support of Rosen as their quarterback. In early February, Kingsbury said Rosen was “our guy.” At the combine, Keim said Rosen was the Cardinals’ quarterback “right now, for sure.” And at the owners meetings in late March, Kingsbury said Rosen “no question” fits his Air Raid offense, and added that there are a lot of “misconceptions” regarding Rosen and the Cardinals.
However, Thursday’s move to draft Murray puts all of that into question.
Kingsbury spoke with Rosen over the phone before drafting Murray in the first round Thursday. After initially declining to discuss the content and nature of the call, Kingsbury said the conversation was “good.”
“It is what it is,” Kingsbury said. “Tough business, and he understands that. But his professionalism has been outstanding throughout the entire thing, and today was no different. He worked as the starter all week and really executed the offense well and led and did all the things you want. I don’t expect that to be any different when he comes back.”