NFL star quarterback Kyler Murray recently signed a $230.5 million, five-year contract extension with the Arizona Cardinals. On its face, this deal appears great for Murray – making him the second highest paid quarterback in the league behind only the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers – and for the Cardinals, who retain their two-time Pro Bowl quarterback for five more years.
Dig below the money, however, and one clause in the agreement has spawned ridicule, disdain and disbelief among NFL experts and on social media. The very existence of this clause in a contract the parties knew would become public also represents a monumental negotiation mistake by alleged negotiation experts who get paid millions to negotiate deals like these.
It’s also a classic lose-lose clause for all the parties, as Murray, his agent Erik Burkhardt, and the Cardinals all look just plain foolish for negotiating this into the agreement.
What does this unique clause say? It’s been described as a “homework” or “independent study” clause, and it requires that Murray spend at least four hours each game week studying upcoming game-related material provided by the Cardinals.
It even defines “independent study” by requiring that Murray “personally study the provided material in good faith” and stating he cannot display or play the material on his iPad while he is “engaged in any other activity that may distract his attention (for example, watching television, playing video games or browsing the internet).”
“Hold on,” you might say. “If the Cardinals had significant concerns whether Murray would adequately prepare for the games, doesn’t it make strategic sense to include and define this in his contract?”
Actually, no. There are three reasons this is a rookie negotiation mistake by both parties, at best.
One, both parties knew this would become public. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict the public reaction when you feel the need to require a 24-year-old professional athlete to do basic prep before a game and must spell out – in writing – that it means he actually has to do it and not watch TV or play video games at the same time.
The lesson here? High profile parties like these have significant reputational interests that must be incorporated into their negotiations. It seems like a no brainer – but apparently it was not.
As a result of this blatant and costly mistake, all the parties’ reputations have taken a major hit. Murray looks like a spoiled 10-year-old who must be forced to do his homework. And the Cardinals look silly for giving said kid $46 million a year when they obviously don’t think he will prepare for games without being forced.
Two, there are many creative ways to accomplish the parties’ interests other than including this clause. How? Ask Cardinals’ Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury. Isn’t it a basic element of the head coach’s job to ensure his players adequately prepare for their games?
Finally, Murray might suggest this is much ado about nothing. His performance shows he is a top quarterback despite not doing much preparation, he might say. As Murray told The New York Times in a 2021 interview “I’m not one of those guys that’s going to sit there and kill myself watching film.”
If Murray had already led the Cardinals to multiple playoff and Super Bowl victories, I might agree with him. But he hasn’t even brought them one playoff win to date. And he had a dismal passer rating of 40.9 with 137 passing yards and 2 interceptions in his only NFL playoff game.
Bottom line: the Cardinals are not paying him this enormous sum based solely on his performance so far. They are paying him a ton for his potential. And to realize that potential, they strongly believe he has to do at least minimal homework.
Perhaps the most successful coach of all time, UCLA’s John Wooden, frequently repeated Benjamin Franklin’s quote “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” This applies to Murray and all negotiators.
Latz’s Lesson: Reputational interests, creativity and preparing all represent foundational elements in almost all successful negotiations on behalf of public figures.