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Even with the fan base enjoying the team’s much deserved bye week, the Arizona Cardinals were making NFL headlines this past Sunday for all the wrong reasons.
According to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury is being targeted by the University of Oklahoma to fill the football team’s sudden vacancy at head coach.
This information predictably sent shockwaves throughout the NFL landscape with Arizona fans taking the news especially difficult. With the Cardinals finally poised for a return to relevance at 9-2, why would their sudden hotshot of a head coach even entertain the idea of returning to a college game where he was famously fired by his alma mater?
The answer to that question, at least in the mind of this beat writer, is that he wouldn’t.
This is a complete and utter leverage play by Kingsbury and his agent Erik Burkhardt with the hopes of making the 42-year-old one of the league’s highest-paid coaches. Kingsbury has two remaining years left on his current deal with Arizona, the latter year being a team option for 2023. With the Cardinals bound for postseason play for the first time since 2015, an eventual extension for Kingsbury long appeared to be predetermined.
The parameters and the dollar amount of that deal, however, are not.
After beginning the season as one of the Vegas favorites to be fired, yet now firmly in the running for NFL Coach of the Year, Kingsbury is wisely using his newfound leverage to his benefit. The discussion surrounding a return to the college game is good Twitter fodder but doesn’t hold up when faced with reasonable rationale.
For those on the fence, ask yourself why Kliff Kingsbury would willingly walk away from a potential Cardinal dynasty-in-the-making to go finish middle of the pack in the SEC? The Seattle Seahawks appear to be on the cusp of a complete rebuild, while both the LA Rams and the San Francisco 49ers are currently saddled with lesser quarterbacks when compared to Arizona. The NFC West is here for the taking, not just in 2021, but well into the future.
If your pushback to this theory is based on the prestige of the Oklahoma program when compared to the Cardinals, I guess that’s fair. The Sooners are a top-five brand in college football, while the Arizona Cardinals are historically a poorly run franchise still searching for their first Lombardi trophy. Yet if the money’s all equal, with the Cardinals currently on track for sustain success, why does history matter?
Unlike the state of Texas, Kingsbury himself has no legitimate ties to Oklahoma. What he does have, however, is a gorgeous home in Paradise Valley that no sane person would ever trade in for the great plains of rural Oklahoma.
With the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury already has a top-five NFL roster that also boasts a franchise quarterback in Kyler Murray. He has a general manager in Steve Keim that’s as aggressive as any talent evaluator (for better or worse) in the NFL, with a defensive savant in Vance Joseph coordinating the other side of the ball. Most importantly, Kingsbury has been given an infrastructure that has allowed the former college coach a chance to grow into the pro game.
Kingsbury famously went 35-40 at the Texas Tech University before being unceremoniously let go in late 2018. He was then hired by USC to be the team’s next offensive coordinator before being aggressively courted away by Michael Bidwill en route to becoming Arizona’s head coach — a move that was, by and large, universally panned throughout the NFL.
Yet it was Bidwill and Keim who stayed committed in their support of Kliff throughout his first two seasons that saw the offensive guru go a marginal 13-18-1. They have since been rewarded with a 2021 campaign that sees Kingsbury’s Cardinals sport the best odds (-500) to win the NFC West for the first time since Bruce Arians roamed the sidelines.
Now with both NFL wins and leverage on his side, Kingsbury is using his platform to his benefit. During Monday’s press conference, the third-year head coach wisely chose not to confirm or deny the report that he had interest in the Oklahoma opening. For those who were disappointed by the lack of denial on the part of Kingsbury, it would do him no good at the negotiating table to shoot down any options that could lead to more money.
Thankfully, Cardinals fans can find solace in knowing that team owner and president Michael Bidwill has every intention on keeping Kliff Kingsbury around long-term. With an eye on the next decade of Arizona Cardinal football, Bidwill wants no part in losing either his head coach or franchise quarterback that have the organization setup for historic success. Expect both to be extended following this season.
So while the Cardinals currently sit at No. 27 among all NFL teams when compared to total value, the $2.65 billion figure likely cannot conceivably increase without a consistent winner in the desert. Kingsbury and his people know that for the Cardinals to make money, they’ve got to spend it.
Which is why, in the coming months, you can expect another Adam Schefter tweet on Kliff Kingsbury. This time, however, it’ll be to announce a lofty contract extension from the Arizona Cardinals that pays the former Texas Tech castoff upwards of $10 million per season.
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