Historic, tempting, and challenging. These are words that match perfectly with the Arizona Cardinals’ decision to select Kyler Murray in the first overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft; only one year after taking Josh Rosen 10th overall.
In April 2018, the Cardinals thought that they had found their franchise quarterback in Rosen, who was selected in the top 10 of the class as a result of Arizona’s trade that cost the team three picks.
Even though it’s still early to say that taking Rosen was a mistake, the Cardinals decided to move on from the quarterback by selecting another first-round play caller in 2019.
By doing so, Arizona became only the second team in the Super Bowl era (since 1967) to select first-round quarterbacks in back-to-back years. This also happened in 1982 and 1983 when the Baltimore Colts called Art Schlichter and John Elway, respectively.
Curiously, neither the Colts nor the Cardinals really kept both QBs this season on the roster at the same time. While Baltimore dismissed Elway immediately after the selection in a trade to the Denver Broncos, Arizona traded Rosen away to the Miami Dolphins just hours after picking Murray.
This means that for the second consecutive season, that the Cardinals will begin another campaign in rebuilding mode. Times have changed in the NFL, but the ultimate goal of finding a franchise quarterback remains pretty much the same.
As expected, the Cardinals lost draft value by trading Rosen to the Dolphins. After all, the team received only a second-round (2019) and a fifth-round (2020) pick to let the former UCLA player go.
Rosen’s tenure in Phoenix lasted 13 starts (3-10 record), 393 passes attempted (55.2 percent completed), 2,271 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Indeed, his rookie season was poor, but it’s unfair to judge his unimpressive numbers without pondering the tough circumstances he was facing.
Firstly, Rosen played under first-year defensive-minded head coach Steve Wilks, who was fired right after the end of the season. His offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, was also dismissed during the regular season — it was the third time in three years that McCoy was fired. Their offence averaged only 14.1 points per game, the worst in the NFL.
On the field, Rosen was surrounded by a struggling offensive line (ranked 28th in the league with 52 sacks allowed — 45 of those in the 13 games Rosen was under center) and a versatility-less receiving corp. There’s a reason why Arizona selected four receivers in this year’s Draft. Even David Johnson, an All-Pro in 2016 and one of the most solid running backs in football, looked bad in the Cardinals’ offence in 2018.
Consequentially, the Cardinals hired head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who will also serve as the team’s offensive coordinator.
For Rosen, however, the same changes in the coaching staff that relatively support his struggles as a rookie were the same that ended up being a direct factor in his departure from Arizona after just one year.
Kingsbury, who worked as the head coach for Texas Tech between 2013 and 2018, is considered an offensive genius. He coached Patrick Mahomes in college and was the offensive coordinator for Texas A&M when Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012.
Because of Kingsbury’s intelligence organizing and calling plays, the Cardinals want to turn him into the “new Sean McVay”.
McVay, who is both head coach and offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, entered the NFL in 2016 to work with league’s worst offence at the time. Three seasons later, he has been changing pro football after installing a new offensive system for the Rams led by Jared Goff under center.
While McVay didn’t “ask for” Goff in Los Angeles beforehand, Arizona has been in an All-In mode for Kingsbury in this case.
Even though Kingsbury has praised Rosen, the coach always followed and loved Murray’s game. That’s why he scouted the reigning Heisman Trophy winner since he was in high school. It’s also why Kingsbury said that he would select Murray first overall if he ever had the chance.
Well, that’s essentially what just happened.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Murray. He totalled 4,361 passing yards and 42 passing touchdowns, while rushing for 1,001 yards on top of12 TDs in the 2018 season. His athleticism was one of the reasons why the Oakland Athletics drafted him ninth overall in the 2018 MLB Draft (but ultimately he chose football over baseball), and along with his leadership ability, made him a top prospect in the NFL.
At 5’10” and 207 lbs, Murray might be an undersized quarterback, but history shows that it’s a matter of being placed in the right system, which is exactly what the Cardinals appear to be doing.
The temptation of having an offence with Kingsbury orchestrating Murray was stronger than the fact of losing Draft value. In other words, the Cardinals could have stuck with Rosen’s plan, then upgraded what would be surrounding the QB in 2019. But Arizona evaluated Murray higher than Rosen, persuaded, of course, by a dream scenario under Kingsbury.
If Rosen had stayed, he could’ve had a bounce-back season just like Goff did in his first year with McVay for the Rams after struggling as a rookie under Jeff Fisher’s command; but all the analysis by the scouts pointed to Murray, who the Cardinals believe has a better chance of becoming their franchise quarterback than Rosen at this point.
A franchise quarterback’s worth is more than pick-value losses in the Draft. That’s not even a debate and the Cardinals just reminded all NFL fans about that.
Arizona was boosted by a new offensive trend in the league and perhaps will be responsible for marking a turning point for some franchises when selecting quarterbacks in the future.
This isn’t the last time an organization will have to choose between either sticking with a plan or changing everything suddenly to do what appears to be best for football’s most important position.
By Caio Miari | @caiomiari1