When Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill announced contract extensions in March for head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim, one quality above all stood out.
"The leadership of both Steve and Kliff have been key factors in the team's turnaround over the last three seasons," Bidwill said in a statement. "We are all looking forward to continuing that progress and recognize these two individuals will be a big part of achieving our long-term goals as an organization."
As the 4-7 Cardinals head into a seemingly must-win game Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, one league source wondered how much leadership that organization has. The source questioned whether there's a "fear" of Kingsbury, at the very least a working respect when adversity hits.
The same source noted that's part of this generation of players (and people), where they "feel like they're peers" with authority figures.
One of the most puzzling moves around the league in 2022 was the trio of contract extensions in the desert for Keim, Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray. Keim and Kingsbury were entering the final year of their respective deals in 2022 while Murray was still a season away from playing under his fifth-year option and another season from a franchise tag.
In essence, many around the league viewed the extensions as unnecessary, especially for an owner who doesn't have the sort of cash flow as many of his peers. Indeed, Arizona had come off its first winning season since 2015, and a few young quarterbacks get new deals following their third season.
One league executive viewed the trio of extensions as one mistake begetting another. Once you re-signed the coach or GM, you had to do the other. And once both of those were secured, you had to do the quarterback. At least, that appears to be how the thinking went.
Kingsbury and Keim are signed through 2027. Murray signed a five-year contract worth up to $230.5 million that runs through the 2028 season. Murray's deal also had an infamous "study clause" that was heavily owner-motivated.
The Cardinals have underperformed by most on-field metrics this season. They'll finish November without back-to-back victories. A top-10 total offense the past two seasons ranks 19th in 2022, while a top-12 scoring defense the past two seasons is next to last in the league this year.
And in a season with more closer games than any the modern NFL has seen, less than half of Arizona's contests have been decided by one possession. In their seven losses this season, the Cardinals have an average margin of defeat of 12.8 points.
Last week, the Cardinals fired offensive line coach Sean Kugler after he allegedly groped a hotel security guard in Mexico City. Arizona placed running backs coach James Saxon on administrative leave over the summer following domestic battery charges that were made public, and Saxon later resigned during the season.
The Cardinals have played the last two games without Murray due to a hamstring injury. Murray is expected to start Sunday against the Chargers.