OPINION: Stern: Why punting on Kyler Murray may be worth it for Cardinals

Kyler Murray
Photo credit Norm Hall / Stringer / Getty Images

When people arrive at a crossroads in life, they contemplate risks and rewards of various decisions before making a final call. While the long-term benefits of one option may involve temporary pain, its potential upside oftentimes makes things worthwhile. The Cardinals face such a dilemma, as they brace for what should be an ugly 2023 season. As the front office weighs its options, they'd be wise to bench quarterback Kyler Murray -- who's still working his way back from a torn ACL -- in hopes of drafting a generational consolation prize: Caleb Williams from USC.

With the Cardinals essentially hitting the reset button by firing Kliff Kingsbury and bringing ex-Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon as their next head coach, Gannon's going to want a significant say in who he wants at the game's most important position. Who he chooses is bound to make or break his tenure in the desert. This reality shouldn't deter Gannon from gambling on the unknown of a rookie like Williams, if he believes the superstar potential is greater than Murray's.

To be clear, Murray's been far from a disappointment since being drafted first overall, back in 2019. The former Rookie of the Year and two-time Pro Bowler has thrown for 13,848 yards and 84 touchdowns, plus added 2,204 yards and 23 scores on the ground. But after playing all 16 games his first two seasons, Murray's missed nine games the last two seasons, and he won just went just 3-8 in 11 starts in 2022.

Even when Murray came out of Oklahoma, many NFL executives and analysts questioned how his 5-foot-11 frame was going to hold up as a dual-threat star. But concerns appear to be a lot more prevalent internally, as Murray enters his fifth season in the league.

The wear-and-tear on Murray's body, paired with his recent struggles, should lead Arizona to seek an upgrade at quarterback. Especially when results have proven you need an elite quarterback to be competitive, and Murray's ceiling may have already been capped. Furthermore, nobody would blame the team from deciding to move on from his unreliability, in favor of more consistency.

Caleb Williams
Photo credit Tom Pennington / Staff / Getty Images

Teams that've endured rough patches have been rewarded by opportunities to draft franchise-changing quarterbacks high in the first round. The Bengals reached their first Super Bowl in 34 years after selecting Joe Burrow, and the Jaguars snapped a four-year playoff drought in 2022 behind Trevor Lawrence. Prior to Patrick Mahomes' dominance, the Chiefs hadn't reached an AFC title game since 1993. Arrowhead Stadium has hosted the past five title games.

While the short-term veteran route presents an intriguing possibility for teams with complete rosters, those further away from playoff contention are better suited trying to find their franchise guy in the draft. The emergence of young stud quarterbacks -- from the aforementioned trio of Mahomes, Burrow, and Lawrence, to the likes of Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts -- further proves that it'd behoove the Cardinals to move on from their current guy, in hopes of striving for greatness in the foreseeable future.

Of course, tanking on a campaign is much easier said than done. Just ask the Texans, which were bumped from the No. 1 spot due to a late touchdown and two-point conversion against the Colts in Week 17. Losing is rarely tolerated by fanbases that haven't seen recent success and don't want to bathe in misery. It’s also important to consider that an underachieving quarterback class could prevent teams from searching for an upgrade while tanking -- as was the case last season.

With all of this taken into consideration, Williams appears to be a special talent who represents the best hope for broken teams to get back on track. Williams has thrown for 79 touchdowns and just nine interceptions in his two seasons at USC. More noteworthy, however, is Williams' pinpoint accuracy, strong arm, excellent decision making, and improvisational ability -- which bears a strong resemblance to Mahomes. Perhaps the comparisons are a tad bit premature. But he sure looks like someone whose skillset is perfectly suited for the NFL, even if his stats have largely come against weak Big-12 and Pac-12 defenses.

So, is it worth punting on the 2023 campaign and playing a backup the entire way -- whether it be fifth-round pick Clayton Tune, incumbent Colt McCoy, or the newly acquired Joshua Dobbs? Remember, this is the same organization that selected Josh Rosen at No. 10 overall in the 2018 draft and then gave up on him after one season.

Although the situations were different, this still represents another time when the Cardinals banked on being able to land an upgrade at quarterback via the draft. If Williams is even 75-percent as good as he is at USC, the decision for Arizona is even easier than deciding whether to keep its offense on the field for a fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line.

Jack Stern is a columnist, anchor, and associate producer for CBS Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @J_Stern97.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Norm Hall / Stringer / Getty Images