The arrival of J.J. Watt boosts the Arizona Cardinals' profile from NFC West upstart who experienced an up-and-down season to a club with the potential to make noise in the postseason.
The key to the Cards leapfrogging their division rivals in 2021 will be quarterback Kyler Murray's sustained improvement. The former No. 1 overall pick was dynamite early in the season, thrusting his name into the periphery of the MVP discussion. Yet, a late-season injury and defenses adjusting to the Cardinals' offense led to struggles as the club lost five of its final seven games.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury noted Thursday that making sure Murray makes the next leap in his career is project numero uno in Arizona.
"I want to make sure we continue his progression, make sure we are taking the next step," Kingsbury said, via the team's official website. "To be able to do what he's done from Year 1 to Year 2 without an offseason, I'm excited to see where it heads next. I think we all know the talent is immense, and he has a chance to be as good as anybody in this league."
Murray noted last month that the Cardinals were too inconsistent to stick with the best teams down the stretch.
Kingsbury said that not having an offseason to work with Murray in person put a ceiling on their chemistry and upside in 2020. While more virtual work is expected this spring, the hope in Arizona is that the offseason program won't get completely wiped out again.
"With Kyler it's just continue to master your craft," Kingsbury said. "This is a position that you're never going to reach perfection but you're going to work towards that. It's the little things each and every day -- consistency each and every day."
Murray is a dynamic talent with an arm to zipline balls to their spot, potent accuracy and an ability to make plays off-script and dominate with his legs. Taking the next step includes knowing what the defense wants to force him into and winning that rep anyway.
Evolution from Kingsbury's offense, which became stagnant down the stretch, would also help Murray improve in Year 3 together.
When Watt signed in Arizona, he noted that he did so because he believed Murray was the type of quarterback who could help him get to a Super Bowl. It was a message that wasn't lost on the QB or coach.
"It's motivational, there's no doubt," Kingsbury said. "Kyler is very confident. Kyler knows what he can be in this league and what he can be moving forward. But to have a guy like that kind of validate it and say, 'Hey, I've watched you, I know what you have brewing out there, I know what you can be,' a guy with probably limited years left in his career and wanting to win a championship and chooses the quarterback, that's pretty impressive and that's really high praise."