Kyler Murray is the latest quarterback to sign a top-of-the-market contract that is set to consume a large proportion of the Cardinals’ cap space. The cap limits are expertly designed to provide parity in a league becoming more and more dependent on its stars, making it hard for Kyler Murray to exceed expectations.
The cap provides a bitter-sweet reward for finding a star player. The price paid—both financially and metaphorically—for paying top-end money is there is little room for error if the player does not live up to or exceed their contract.
Using Mahomes as a guide
In 2022, the Chiefs have to watch Patrick Mahomes’ cap percentage jump from 4% to 17%, according to Over the Cap. It’s likely the increase impacted their ability to pay Tyreek Hill what the Dolphins could and is impacting negotiations with Orlando Brown Jr.
This gets interesting for the Chiefs because they’re expecting Mahomes to elevate his own and his teammates’ performances. However, they already had him at a league-leading level while having the space to pay Hill.
It’s fair to question how much better his game can get. All this is to say, their best shot at more championships may have been during the last four seasons.
The Cardinals have committed to Murray and paid him as a top two or three quarterback while the rest of the league likely views him closer to the floor of the top fifteen. The Cardinals won’t necessarily mind this because they’ll likely feel justified in their own market research and valuation.
But let’s use some previous cap spending data to see how much successful teams spend on different positions, starting with the quarterback market.
For this exercise, successful teams have been defined as those with a winning percentage greater than 0.625. This represents teams with a 9-7 or greater record. From the 2021 season, teams needed to be 10-7 or greater to be above the threshold
Defining this threshold is subjective to a certain degree and can be altered, but we felt like getting a team to a winning record is largely successful before the playoffs can introduce an element of luck.
To only view the cap split of championship-winning teams or finalists would leave a small sample size and would be negligent to the potential insights. The median cap percentage spent at each position per team (for every team from 2013 onwards) was used for this exercise.
How do successful and unsuccessful teams split their cap?
|Position||Winning Pct < 62.5%||Winning Pct > 62.5%|
What is fascinating to note here is the difference for all positions besides quarterback is minimal.
Viewing the difference between a successful team’s cap spending per position against unsuccessful teams gives us the following:
This is to say that successful teams use around 3% more of their cap space than unsuccessful teams on the quarterback position. Unsuccessful teams spend almost 1% more on cornerbacks which may serve as a surprising result.
How does this affect the Cardinals’ short-term future?
|Year||Murray Cap Percentage||Difference from Successful Teams|
The Cardinals are managing to keep Murray’s contract significantly below the successful teams median for the upcoming season and the 2023 season.
From then on, his cap percentage becomes astronomical. Within the cohort of successful teams since 2013, only three have had a 20% or greater percentage spent on quarterbacks:
That 2016 Falcons team had the league’s MVP at the position as did the 2021 Packers. The 2020 Colts made the playoffs with Philip Rivers in his last year. That contract is looking like an overpay.
In general, however, quarterbacks commanding a large percentage of the cap should be right in the mix for the MVP award at the end of the season.
The Cardinals believe they have a future league MVP in their building and time will tell whether Murray can ascend to that level. The dilemma with this contract is the cap percentage is so large that even if he reaches MVP level, the contract will only then be reaching its expected value.
The only way this contract will exceed its value is by Murray hoisting both the MVP award and the Lombardi Trophy.
It will be interesting to study how this one plays out.