Why the Cardinals could control the 2024 NFL draft

Regardless of how this season ends for the Arizona Cardinals, they'll have plenty of opportunities to reshape their roster during next year's NFL draft.

As of now, the Cardinals have 11 draft picks in 2024 -- including two first-rounders, one second-rounder and three third-rounders. For those counting at home, that's six in the top 100. The Cardinals got the Houston Texans' 2024 first-rounder (among other picks) in last week's draft when the Texans traded up from No. 12 to the Cardinals' spot at No. 3 to select pass-rusher Will Anderson Jr.

What could those picks -- particularly those two first-rounders -- turn into? If next year's draft order unfolds as Caesars Sportsbook projects based on its inverted Super Bowl odds, the Cardinals could control the top of the draft with the Nos. 1 and 2 overall picks. The Cardinals and Texans have the longest odds to win the Super Bowl and aren't expected to have good seasons, meaning Arizona could have the top two picks in the draft.

So the conversation every time the Cardinals lose in 2024 will quickly focus on what's at stake come next April. And until he proves otherwise, the prize of next year's draft is expected to be USC quarterback Caleb Williams, now coached by none other than former Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Here's the catch: The Cardinals have a quarterback -- and a pretty good one -- in Kyler Murray, who's recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee and might not be ready for the beginning of the season.

Murray's future will debated, speculated and projected with every pass he throws and every run he makes.

ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and NFL draft insider Jordan Reid discuss Murray's status for the 2023 season, his future with the Cardinals and prospects the Cardinals could be choosing from in 2024.

Where are the Cardinals in their rebuild after the 2023 draft?

With this year's draft in the rear-view mirror, it's pretty evident this is, at minimum, a two-year project for GM Monti Ossenfort and coach Jonathan Gannon to build the roster they want. They used free agency to sign quick fixes at positions of need like pass-rusher, offensive line, wide receiver and cornerback. That was reinforced when Ossenfort did not hand out a contract longer than two years. Through the draft, the Cardinals continued to address those same positions of need, including spending their first-round pick on offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. from Ohio State. They drafted nine players, including four in the top 100 picks.

Arizona has added some intriguing young talent, but roster overhauls typically last longer than one offseason.

But here's the thing with the Cardinals' rebuild: If receiver DeAndre Hopkins isn't traded, the Cardinals' offense could be better than expected. His presence might not lead to a bunch more wins, but the offense should be competitive -- especially when Murray comes back. -- Weinfuss

What's the latest on Murray's injury and outlook for 2023?

Gannon said the week before the draft that Murray had taken a step forward in his recovery. "He's moving along well," Gannon said on PHNX's Cardinals podcast.

Murray is working out and rehabbing at the Cardinals' facility in Tempe, Arizona, after having surgery on Jan. 3. Odds are that Murray will return at some point during the 2023 season -- the question is when. There's no timetable for his return, but Kingsbury said the day after Murray's surgery the quarterback "probably" wouldn't be back for the start of the 2023 season. Gannon said on Feb. 23 that Murray was "right on schedule" with his rehab but that the team wouldn't rush him back to be sure he's 100%. Chatter around the idea Murray could miss the entire season has died down in recent months.

Ossenfort and Gannon have said multiple times Murray is their quarterback and they are patiently waiting for him to get healthy. They've been impressed with Murray's diligence in his recovery and neither has hinted Murray's future with the franchise is in jeopardy. -- Weinfuss

What does Murray's contract look like in 2024 and beyond?

From a financial standpoint, if -- and this is a big if -- the Cardinals wanted to move on from the five-year extension Murray signed in July that's worth up to $230.5 million, it might already be too late.

Murray received a $36 million option bonus on the first day of the 2023 league year in March. And $35.3 million of his base salary for next season is guaranteed. He doesn't have any guaranteed money starting in 2025.

But starting in 2024, his cap number is astronomical, as is the dead money that would be incurred if Arizona cut Murray. According to Over the Cap, Murray's cap number in 2024 will be $51.857 million, and his dead money hit would be $81.5 million. The Cardinals would lose $64.9 million in cap money instead of saving anything when a player leaves.

In 2025, while he doesn't get any guaranteed money, Murray's cap hit is $45.6 million, but his dead money drops to $33.2 million and Arizona would save $12.4 million in cap space if it moved on from him. -- Weinfuss

What would it take for the Cardinals to be in the QB market in 2024?

Murray has quite a bit of guaranteed money left that would likely prevent Arizona from making any moves leading into the 2024 season. And let's not forget this: Murray has played at an elite level in this league. He led the Cardinals to a 7-0 start in 2021, and they were 10-2 before the season imploded -- just like it did in three of the last four seasons under Kingsbury. Murray catches the blame for a franchise's downfall that was largely out of his control.

If he's healthy and has offensive options to work with like Hopkins, while playing in a structured environment and in an offense that's suited for him, then it's very possible Murray could reenter the MVP conversation again at some point in the next two years, as he did at the start of the 2021 season.

But if the 2023 season goes sideways, there's always the chance the Cardinals' new regime -- which didn't draft Murray -- might want to bring in its own quarterback, especially if Arizona is sitting at the top of the draft. The challenge then becomes convincing owner Michael Bidwill to eat the guaranteed money Murray will be paid, which won't necessarily be an easy job. To smooth over the idea of picking another quarterback at No. 1, the Cardinals would need to trade Murray for another haul of picks. -- Weinfuss

Who are the top QB prospects in the 2024 draft?

The two names you will hear most leading up to next season are USC's Caleb Williams and North Carolina's Drake Maye. Both are entering a critical junior season where all eyes will be on them as the top signal-callers of the upcoming draft class. Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, is next in a long lineage of quarterbacks developed by Lincoln Riley (including Murray). Williams (6-foot-1, 218 pounds) threw for 4,537 yards and 42 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2022 while also adding another 382 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Last season was his first as a starter after transferring from Oklahoma, and many have high expectations for him as the early favorite to become the No. 1 overall pick.

Maye isn't that far behind and is another prospect who had a breakout season in his first year as a starter. Earning ACC Rookie and Offensive Player of the Year honors, he racked up 4,321 passing yards and 38 touchdowns to only seven interceptions in 2022 while also adding 698 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Maye is a slender but powerful thrower who could also contend for the top overall selection.

Outside of Williams and Maye, names to keep an eye on this upcoming season include Quinn Ewers (Texas), Michael Penix Jr. (Washington), and Bo Nix (Oregon). All have potential to be early-round favorites. -- Reid

What else could the Cards' roster use in 2024, and which non-QB prospects should fans know?

The Cardinals are at the beginning stages of reconstructing their roster. Ossenfort did an excellent job of keeping the focus on adding young talent at premium positions in the 2023 draft while gaining more draft capital for the future. Adding offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr., edge rusher BJ Ojulari and cornerback Garrett Williams was a positive start to building a roster that has been starved for young players. Looking ahead to 2024, the objective should remain the same as the team is multiple years away from being a true contender. Arizona should look to continue to add players at key positions while also obtaining future draft capital to eventually plug holes at other spots on the roster. Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., Florida State defensive end Jared Verse, Alabama cornerback Ga'Quincy "Kool-Aid" McKinstry and Crimson Tide edge rusher Dallas Turner are among the top non-QB prospects who make sense for the Cardinals entering the 2023 college season. -- Reid