J.J. Watt banking on Kyler Murray to take Arizona Cardinals to the next level
When J.J. Watt ended his eventful foray into free agency, his choice of team came as quite a shock.
While that quartet of teams all made the playoffs in 2020, the Cardinals finished third in the NFC West, with an 8-8 record.
In short, the expectation was that Watt would sign with a contender, becoming the missing piece on a team needing to get to the promised land.
Maybe he has found that in the desert.
The Cardinals weren't bad in 2020, but they also weren't great. That much can be gleaned from their .500 record.
A deeper dive shows that Kliff Kingsbury's team finished above average both offensively and defensively in several key categories.
The Cards were sixth in the league in offensive yards and 13th in points scored, as well as 13th in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed on defense.
Then there's Arizona's star quarterback, Kyler Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
His appeal helped lure the soon-to-be 32-year-old Watt, as the defensive end revealed in his introductory news conference.
"He's had an unbelievable career. ... He's been a winner at every stage of his life. That's not a coincidence. You're a winner because of the way that you work and because of the aura that you give off and because of the talent that you have. I think that he has all of those things."
En route to becoming the No. 1 overall pick, Murray set the college football landscape ablaze.
In his lone year as a starter with the Oklahoma Sooners, Murray racked up a 12-1 regular-season record, completing 70.9% of his passes for 4,053 yards, 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
He also rushed for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns in that span, winning the Big 12 Championship, making a College Football Playoff appearance and, lest we forget, taking home the Heisman Trophy.
In his first year with Kingsbury in Arizona, Murray went 5-10-1, which was an improvement on the 3-13 record the Cardinals mustered the season prior to the dual arrivals of new coach and new quarterback.
That improvement carried into Murray's sophomore season, in which the Cardinals went 8-8 and narrowly missed the playoffs in the final week of the season.
Murray's development led Colin Cowherd to proclaim himself a believer in the seeds of success that have been planted in Arizona.
Cowherd said Murray's rare skill set gives the Cardinals a quarterback capable of winning a Super Bowl, and that's enough for him to be sold on Watt's decision.
"You have to look at what he provides that other quarterbacks can't and never did. If you look at his quarterback stats, they barely went up. But you know what went up? Wins. ... You know what went up? Rushing. Yards and touchdowns. ... He's a completely non-traditional quarterback. And I agree with J.J. Watt, you can win a Super Bowl with Kyler Murray. You can."
To Cowherd's point, Murray is an absolute force in the rushing game.
He has amassed 1,363 rushing yards in his two-year career, along with 15 rushing touchdowns, all while averaging 6.0 yards per attempt.
Despite his smaller stature — 5-foot-10, 207 pounds — he has yet to miss a start for the Cardinals, though he has had his fair share of minor injuries.
Watt believes in Murray, as does Cowherd. And the oddsmakers are starting to come around ever so slightly.
Prior to the Watt signing, FOX Bet had Arizona's odds to win the Super Bowl at +4500. They've been cut to +3500 with Watt in the fold.
It's still a long shot, but the team is trending in the right direction. It'll be up to Murray, along with his new teammate, to keep the positive vibes coming.