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Kyler Murray's return to game-action brings potential franchise-altering decisions for Cardinals

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At long last, 335 days after he tore his ACL in a non-contact injury late last season, Kyler Murray will start today. The Arizona Cardinals' franchise quarterback, the subject of so many headlines over the past few months, will make his long-awaited return.

Murray told reporters this week, "I've felt good for quite sometime," but the team wanted to make sure he was physically and mentally ready to play before activating him. While head coach Jonathan Gannon advised Murray that he might not look like his pre-injury form for a while, Murray told reporters this past week that won't be in his head when the ball is kicked against the Falcons on Sunday.

Before we get to one of the more fascinating dramas that will play out this season and into the offseason, what will it look like today on the field?

While Murray didn't always appear to be engaged during the last coaching regime -- his massive contract extension included a film study clause that was quickly amended and removed -- he has been with Gannon's staff. Sources describe Murray as "awesome" with how he's studied and learned, asking questions and wanting to understand offensive coordinator Drew Petzing's new scheme. This has happened since training camp, when Murray was still rehabbing his knee and not on the practice field.

Though the new coaching staff had expectations for him, Murray is actually faster than some imagined and even more talented. It seems like a while ago, but Murray was a Pro Bowl selection for two years in a row (2020-2021) and led his team to a 8-1 start in 2021.

Murray will wear a wristband during today's game, though Petzing asks all of his quarterbacks to wear one to ease the delivering of the play-call (Josh Dobbs wore one, as well, in his eight starts for the Cardinals this year). Murray will have the Cardinals' whole play sheet on his wristband, making it easier to get in and out of the huddle.

While there might be some rust as this will be Murray's first game action in 11 months, expect the offense to be a bit more aggressive once Murray gets his feet under him. The more he picks up, the more the staff will put on him in terms of protection and checks.

Murray has indicated he's where he needs to be athletically, which could also mean Arizona draws up some of the QB runs he thrives on.

That's today, but what about the next few months?

It's clear both sides are going into these next eight games with eyes wide open. Murray might be the QB of the future for this new regime, or he might the biggest trade chip in the NFL this offseason, allowing Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort to kickstart a rebuild that would then include a new quarterback.

All parties appear open to all options.

If the Cardinals win more games than expected -- let's say they go 4-4 the rest of the way -- drafting a top-tier QB would be unlikely, making Murray the better option. There is a decent chance Ossenfort and company decide that the best path forward is together if this all fits.

Murray is due $35.95 million fully guaranteed next season, and $18 million of his 2025 salary fully guarantees on the fifth day of the 2024 offseason, meaning if the Cardinals were to keep him they'll likely do it for multiple years.

If Murray plays well but the team still ends up with a top draft pick, the Cardinals brass would have to weigh keeping their QB with his contract against moving the contract, receiving a boatload of picks in a trade to build with, but also the uncertainty of starting over at the position.

While there is plenty of time to make one of the biggest decisions in franchise history, the path toward that potential scenario begins today.

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