The 2023 NFL season may very well be a long one for the Arizona Cardinals. But as Week 1 of a new era of Cardinals football dawns, the franchise doesn't have designs to "tank" for a new franchise quarterback.
Sources tell CBS Sports the Cardinals are pleased with the work ethic, rehab and study habits of quarterback Kyler Murray, who begins the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list as he continues to recover from January surgery. In fact, Murray pushed throughout camp to not go on the PUP list so he wouldn't be forced to sit out at least the first four games of the season.
Barring any setbacks, the hope in Arizona is that Murray can return around or by midseason — perhaps even as early as late October. That would give the quarterback, who last year signed a franchise-record five-year deal worth up to $230.5 million, nearly a half-season in offensive coordinator Drew Petzing's offense.
Why does everyone think the Cardinals are tanking? First-year head coach Jonathan Gannon and first-year general manager Monti Ossenfort entered this offseason to clean up the mess of the previous regime. Arizona's roster is among the least talented in the NFL, and Sunday the Cardinals are going to start Joshua Dobbs at quarterback, just more than two weeks after trading for him.
A flurry of trades late in the preseason — dealing former first-round pick Isaiah Simmons to the Giants for a seventh-round pick and shipping off backup tackle Josh Jones to the Texans — didn't help matters, either.
The Cardinals not only own their own first-round pick in the 2024 draft, but they also have the rights to Houston's first-round selection by virtue of their draft-day trade with the Texans in April for Houston to acquire Will Anderson Jr. with the No. 3 overall pick. Houston is projected to have similar issues with winning this season, so Arizona could own dual top-ten (or top-five) picks in next year's draft.
Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams is considered by many to be the top quarterback in this year's upcoming class. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner could be the No. 1 pick in 2024, and some have mentioned the Cardinals could be tanking for Williams.
That would mean Arizona would spend a top-ten pick on a quarterback for a third time in seven years, something unheard of in the NFL. A deal for Williams would signal the end of Murray's time in Arizona with $37 million in base salary due to him in 2024 from Arizona. Trading Murray could also be difficult considering any lackluster play in 2023 would lower his trade value.
And Williams' father, Carl, noted to GQ recently that Williams holds some control over his future by the potential threat of returning to school for another year if the fit isn't right.
"The organizations matter," Williams said. "He's got two shots at the apple. So if there's not a good situation, the truth is, he can come back to school."
Regardless of that threat, an ideal scenario for Arizona would be a healthy return for Murray that shows them he's the franchise quarterback the organization can build around. With two high picks, the Cardinals would be able to go after the draft's premier players at premier positions like wide receiver, cornerback and the offensive and defensive lines.
Of course, outlooks can change as the season rolls along. But as it stands heading into Week 1, there are no designs in Arizona to tank this season for (yet another) future quarterback.