Watt’s two-year contract costs an average of $14 million per year, but he has a cap hit of only $4.9 million in 2021, which allows for an aggressive push when the new league year begins on Wednesday. The Cardinals have about $20 million in salary cap room, per OverTheCap.com, and can use player cuts, restructures, extensions or paycuts to add to that number.
This is a good offseason to be in win-now mode, because the decreasing salary cap is going to mean a flood of talented players hitting the market.
“I think there is going to be a seismic shift in talent across the NFL,” Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill told SiriusXM NFL Radio on March 3. “You’ve got teams that are projected to be well over the cap; you’ve got teams that are projected to be well under. I know every potential free agent is thinking they’re not going to get released, but there are going to be a bunch of surprises for people here in a few weeks, when everybody has to get under the cap and free agency starts. I see a big shift, a seismic shift, in terms of the talent moving around.”
Even so, the Cardinals’ general manager knows he is in a good spot.
“It’s something you think about a lot,” Keim said. “Whether it is Seattle or teams like the Chiefs with Mahomes, or other teams that have had success with (quarterbacks) early in their career, you do have a chance to spend in other areas.”
This scenario won’t last long. Murray is eligible for a contract extension after the season, and while the structure could allow for a low cap hit in 2022, the price would balloon soon after.
Paying a star quarterback at market value can still be a path to success in the NFL, as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees can attest, but a talented signal-caller on a rookie deal has been the sweet spot in the NFL of late.
The Cardinals and Murray would love to be the latest example of that in 2021.
“He has the potential to be one of the top guys in the league,” Kingsbury said. “We all know that. We have to continue to build around him, coach at a high level around him, and see if we can help maximize him as a player.”