Organized Team Activities are underway for the Arizona Cardinals. OTAs are the signifier that the football season is just on the horizon and the Cardinals have many questions they hope to answer before the season starts. While OTAs can't provide the full scope of where a team is going the following season it can give a hint. Here are five takeaways from the first day of OTAs:
The Cardinals need to resolve the Kyler Murray situation
Kyler Murray was a no-show for at least the first day of the team's voluntary OTAs and he is not expected to attend any going forward. His absence may have been expected, but it confirmed that this is not a normal offseason for the Cardinals quarterback. In fact, it hasn’t been a normal offseason since February.
Murray and the Cardinals have seemingly been on shaky ground since the Pro Bowl when Murray wiped his Instagram of anything related to the Cardinals. After a string of statements between Murray's agent, the Cardinals, and Murray himself, the saga continued. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported this month that Murray “won’t be too eager” to play on his rookie contract.
Up until this point, Murray had no responsibility to the team in terms of practices or playing. His absence at OTAs is the first action Murray has taken to show that he and the Cardinals are not on the same page.
For the benefit of the team, it is important that the Cardinals resolve the contract issues between them and Murray. The longer the dispute goes on, the more likely that Murray could become more aggressive in holding out for his desired contract.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury trusts that his quarterback will be on the field for the team's mandatory minicamp coming up in a few weeks, saying “I do” when asked if he anticipates Murray being back with the team.
General manager Steve Keim has taken the “never let them see you sweat” approach to handling negotiations with Murray. During the NFL Draft, Keim spoke to the media and said that he and Murray have talked. It seems that the two are on amicable terms.
Reminder! It is Voluntary
Before fans slam the panic button and start analyzing how Colt McCoy would be as the Cardinals quarterback, it is important to remember that this phase of OTAs is voluntary.
Murray was just one of multiple veteran players who missed out on the offseason practice drills. James Conner, D.J. Humphries, Marquise Brown, Rodney Hudson and Markus Golden were just a few names not attending the first day of OTAs.
At the end of the day, these practices are not mandatory and players may be absent for multiple reasons, ranging from lingering injuries or a coaching strategy.
Many of the players missing were those who have been in the NFL for multiple seasons. Conner and Hudson debuted with the Cardinals in 2021, but have a combined 16 seasons in the league. Humphries has spent the last six seasons on the Cardinals offensive line.
Having the entirety of the team at OTAs would be ideal, but the vacancy left by the veterans gives younger players valuable reps. Many of these players will be battling for positions when training camp comes around and the added experience allows them to be ready to fight for a starting position.
The Master and Apprentice
The first day of OTAs was the first day for many of the rookies to see their veteran counterparts.
The new faces watched as seasoned veterans showcased what an NFL practice looks like.
For rookie tight end Trey McBride, he watched a superstar veteran display what elite NFL talent looks like. McBride will be behind Zach Ertz, a three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion. The chemistry between the veteran and rookie will be built in the next few days, but taking on the role of a mentor is not a position Ertz will shy away from.
“I’m not going to hold someone's hand, but if someone wants to work and someone is asking a question or just wants to train with me, I am more than open to doing that,” Ertz said.
Outside linebackers Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders will be in a similar situation as they watch J.J. Watt throughout the next few practices. On Day 1 of OTAs, Watt was tackling blocking dummies as if it was Week 13.
Young Players Stepping Up
Summer practices are a great time for players who didn’t see a lot of playing time last season to reintroduce themselves. In the NFL, your role on the bench can change in the blink of an eye and preparation in May can lead to a starting job in November.
Wide receiver Antoine Wesley is a shining example of taking advantage of opportunity. After an impressive training camp last season, Wesley made the roster but spent the next eight weeks on the bench. Then DeAndre Hopkins injured his hamstring.
In the final 10 weeks, Wesley played in eight games, snagging 19 catches for 208 yards and three touchdowns. When speaking to the media on Monday, Wesley said that the finish to the season gave him added confidence.
The Cardinals will be without Hopkins for the first six games of the season due to the wide receiver's suspension. It gives Wesley another chance to fill in that role.
A New Zach Ertz
Kyler Murray being absent from practice is going to be the main headline, but most people are ignoring the real story of the day.
Zach Ertz has a new hairdo.
The first day of a job or first day of school is the time to unveil the new you and it is no different for a Pro Bowl tight end. Ertz is participating in his first OTAs as a Cardinal, so it was the perfect time to unveil his now blonde hair.
The new do already has the approval of his head coach who said he “liked it,” so for Ertz the season is already off to a good start.