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Cardinals Hard Knocks: 3 Storylines We Want To See Play Out

  • Justin Melo
  • May 23, 2022
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HBO and NFL Films have announced that the upcoming second iteration of Hard Knocks’ in-season format will focus on the Arizona Cardinals. HBO debuted the new format with a season surrounding the Indianapolis Colts’ 2021 campaign. 

For nearly two decades, Hard Knocks has provided audiences with the ultimate peek behind the curtain. The reality sports documentary is truly unique in its operation, and the launch of an in-season format has helped the historic series reach new heights while granting fans never-before-seen access. 

Arizona is coincidentally the host city for February’s Super Bowl LVII. The Cardinals are attempting to become the third consecutive franchise to participate in a Super Bowl in the comforts of their home stadium. The multi-episode, in-season edition will follow the NFC West contenders as they navigate through in-season difficulties and will air on HBO and HBO Max beginning in November. 

We’ve identified three potential storylines we’re particularly excited to follow along with.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN KYLER MURRAY AND THE CARDINALS

Starting quarterback Kyler Murray has refused to attend Arizona’s Organized Team Activities (OTAs) this week as he continues his holdout for a new contract. Murray is currently set to enter the fourth and final year of his rookie contract in 2022 and is being severely underpaid given his productive outputs. Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim has already exercised the fifth-year option on Murray’s contract, which would pay the former Oklahoma standout a fully guaranteed $29.7 million in 2023, but Murray seems disinterested in that, too. It would represent a sizable raise in pay when compared to Murray’s scheduled 2022 earnings but falls well short of what quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes earn on an annual basis. Murray and his representatives are surely hoping to approach $50 million annually on his next contract.

Murray’s contract negotiations could reach a conclusion by the time Hard Knocks debuts in November, but the craziest offseason in history could have another twist in the tale. Regardless of the unknown outcome, the state of Murray’s seemingly deteriorating relationship with the organization will be worth monitoring in terrific detail. Neither Murray nor the Cardinals should allow such discussions to hang a cloud over their impending campaign. Relationships and overall success are at stake. 

NAVIGATING THROUGH DEANDRE HOPKINS’ SUSPENSION

Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury will face a considerable challenge throughout the first half of the 2022 season. Superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for the team’s first six contests for violating the league’s NFL Performance Enhancing Drug policy. The suspension represents a significant early-season loss for a Kingsbury-led offense that struggled mightily without Hopkins‘ dominant presence on the boundary while he was unavailable with injury a year ago. The Cardinals went 3-4 without Hopkins, and Kingsbury must avoid repeating such mediocrities in what qualifies as a crucial season for the Cardinals (more on that later). For comparative purposes, Arizona went 8-2 with Hopkins in the lineup.

The Cardinals preemptively responded to Hopkins’ suspension by acquiring fellow 1,000-yard receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown from the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for their first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Cardinals paid a premium to secure Brown in hopes of offsetting Hopkins’ early-season unavailability. The Cardinals essentially forfeited all leverage in impending contract negotiations with Brown, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of 2023 and may seek a new contract before then. It signals the extreme level of panic inside Arizona’s headquarters following Hopkins’ suspension.

A peek into how Kingsbury gameplans and navigates through the challenges of Hopkins’ absence is must-watch television.

AVOIDING ANOTHER LATE-SEASON COLLAPSE?

It goes without saying that the Cardinals are entering an extremely crucial campaign in 2022. Arizona has earned a reputation for suffering late-season collapses under the guidance of Keim and Kingsbury, a talking point that was further magnified by their embarrassing 34-11 postseason defeat to their division rival Los Angeles Rams.

Despite beginning the 2021 campaign a perfect 7-0, the Cardinals crawled to an 11-6 finish by losing four of their final five regular-season contests. It represented an eerily similar conclusion following a 2020 season that saw the Cardinals finish 3-6 following a Week 8 bye. In 2019, Kingsbury’s first as Arizona’s head coach, the Cardinals finished an abysmal 2-7 in their final nine contests.

Onlookers have begun questioning the mental toughness and sense of urgency Kingsbury’s teams display in December and January. It’s a negative connotation that falls squarely at Kingsbury’s feet. Kingsbury has certainly spent the offseason reflecting on his late-season failures while hoping to avoid a repeat in 2022. 

Now entering his fourth professional campaign in charge of the Cardinals, Kingsbury may be on the shortest of leashes, and playoff success is expected. A similar outcome under the bright lights and in-your-face cameras of Hard Knocks may force owner Michael Bidwell to take his team in a different direction in 2023.

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Justin Melo