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A Game of Throws

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What could Cardinals GM Steve Keim and popular character Tyrion Lannister from the HBO series have in common in AZ’s quarterback dilemma?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In case you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, HBO’s television series “Game Of Thrones” has become a smash hit over the past decade, delivering a unique blend of medieval drama, action and political intrigue that is coming to an end this April.

Likewise, there’s another unique blend of intrigue and drama that will be ending at around the same time this 2019: the Arizona Cardinals’ decision at the #1 pick in the NFL draft.

And the two might have a bit more in common than you might think at first.

How so?

Well, the NFL draft has always had a particular set of intrigue as a season filled with misinformation, misdirection, moves and countermoves in an attempt by 32 general managers to bend 31 of the other teams to their will to garner the exact talent and players that they want to improve their football team.

What does this have to do with Steve Keim, particularly? Well, there’s a scene in which one of the characters, Tyrion Lannister, concocts a scheme full of misinformation to serve a greater end purpose.

Scene is below, no spoilers but a tad bit of salty language at the beginning as a warning (still safe for work!)

What is happening in this scene?

In it the central character, Tyrion the dwarf, tells three different stories to three different powerful men about marrying off one of his nieces to a different kingdom to forge a political alliance, with each man being told in confidence a different name.

He does this specifically to discover if any of them is a traitor who will tell the queen of his plan.

His plan succeeded in not only destabilizing the situation, but also keeping the powerful guessing as to what his true intentions actually were.

Is it possible that this is what the Kyler Murray rumors at #1 are doing as well?

No matter what Cardinals GM Steve Keim does in the draft, there’s really only three options he has on the table:

-Draft a top defensive lineman (assumedly over another position like wide receiver or offensive line) in Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams

-Draft a quarterback in Kyler Murray, who’s been tied to Kliff Kingsbury

-Trade the pick to a team to acquire multiple picks

Looking at each of these options, it becomes immediately clear that someone is being used as leverage, just like Tyrion leveraged each man in his scheme with their information to gain something greater.

Either Kyler Murray OR Josh Rosen is being leveraged by Keim.

As long as he hasn’t made up his mind on who he is taking at #1, he effectively could be seen as having two quarterbacks on his roster. He could draft Kyler and trade Rosen or keep Rosen and trade the rights to draft Kyler Murray.

As soon as he has his decision on which quarterback he is trotting out, he immediately loses leverage on the other one.

Keim is playing the “Game of Throws” at the quarterback position. And there’s right now, almost no cost to him to do so outside of creating a bit more squabbling and bickering over which quarterback Arizona should have amongst fans and analysts.

Practically speaking, if Kyler Murray goes #1 overall to the Cardinals, who benefits?

  1. Kyler Murray
  2. Kyler Murray’s agent (who is also Kliff Kingsbury’s agent)
  3. Kliff Kingsbury (who gets Kyler and possibly trade value for Rosen)

But that begs the question...who benefits if Kyler goes #1 overall but NOT to Arizona but to a team trading up for him?

  1. Kyler Murray
  2. Kyler’s Agent, shared by Kliff
  3. Kliff Kingsbury (who gets a haul of picks for Kyler at a higher value than simply trading Rosen)

Either way, Keim, Kliff and the Cardinals win. Is it a stretch that they might be leveraging their connection with Kyler Murray ever since that video of Kliff saying he’d take him at #1 dropped? Especially given that all the chatter was “Kliff will help Rosen” before the video. After it? All indications that they might be moving on.

Hmmm...

Suspicious, much?

Shouldn’t be.

This has been an NFL pattern for years.

Last year the day before the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield, reports were leaking out that Sam Darnold was the guy. It kept other teams on their toes and also helped GM John Dorsey identify if there were leaks similar to what Tyrion Lannister utilized (never mind that it was likely his own coach in Hue Jackson who might have been the source at the time).

Heck, some even said that the Browns were going to take Saquon Barkley at 1 and take a quarterback again at 4, and some said they’d draft TWO quarterbacks and keep both.

(Nope: Baker and not even Bradley Chubb but Denzel Ward instead)

Or look no further than some of the most well-known misinformation that’s ever been connected to the Cardinals below:

Barkley did end up a Cardinal....after he was drafted by the Eagles in the 4th round and Arizona traded a conditional 7th for him.

Misdirection.

Like Tyrion Lannister put out into the wind, just a hint of truth amongst the lies.

I, myself, can confirm that I’ve followed up with both public insight and private insight and have heard both:

I’ve heard AZ is definitely drafting Murray AND I’ve heard that there’s no chance that they move on from Rosen for Murray.

And ask just about any well-known NFL insider and they’ll have sources telling them one or the other as well.

See what Rich Eisen had to say after the news of Arizona considering Murray spread like wildfire at the combine about how “it took low level scouts one beer” to spill the beans.

“All according to plan” says Steve Keim (assumedly).

The option of drafting or not drafting Kyler Murray is totally being controlled by the Cardinals, and if a team needs a quarterback, rather than moving up to the 2nd overall pick, Keim has created a market for the pick where teams can’t just swap up to pick #2 or pick #3 for a quarterback.

Rather, they have to contend with the Cardinals themselves to make a trade.

And I think that’s brilliant.

Now, perhaps I’m wrong...perhaps the Cardinals do take Kyler in the end and they know it right now, or feel he’s too good to pass up. Or perhaps it’s a double bluff where Arizona tells the truth, makes moves that make people believe it’s a lie and it was true all along.

That seems....unlikely given the mass belief that “Murray at 1” is a done deal.

And it makes sense that the building might be split on Rosen given that Murray is almost his polar opposite as far as a quarterback goes, Kingsbury has a personal connection and many of the Broncos staff that passed on Rosen last year are now coaching in Arizona.

But as of right now, people are having to say “If the Cardinals keep Rosen/if AZ drafts Kyler” and the unknown of that position affects the entire first round of the NFL draft and how it plays out.

That’s how I think Steve Keim wants it.

It’s part of why it gives me pause if the Cardinals are really going to draft Kyler Murray at #1 overall. If Arizona is actually going to take Murray, what leverage does the team have, and what point is there in putting the information out there?

  • You lose trade leverage on moving Josh Rosen
  • You lose leverage on exposing leaks & sources within your own building
  • And you lose trade value for the #1 pick (every pick & player has a price)

The Browns reportedly offered three first-rounders for the right to move up to draft Andrew Luck, and the haul the Rams got for RG3 was impressive (even though they had a need for a quarterback at the time as well).

Perhaps Keim keeps both quarterbacks and lets them duel it out, but I don’t think that will happen as Keim throughout his whole tenure has never had a true quarterback battle. He’s always had or put a leader in place as the unquestioned starter and had it be their job to lose, unlike the end of Ken Whisenhunt’s tenure in the desert.

How did it turn out in the end for Tyrion in the Game of Thrones?

Rather well, of course.

In a later episode, it’s revealed that the first man leaked the information to the queen, who comes to Tyrion upset that he is selling off her daughter to “Dorne” when in fact all that did was leak exactly which source the information was coming from.

So the dwarf got the queen to agree to his plan AND created a valuable ally as well as apprehended and prosecuted the man who betrayed him to her, earning a win-win.

I think such a thing might be what’s happening in Arizona right now. If you can convince a team to trade up, you get picks OR if you aren’t drafting Kyler and taking Bosa, you can leverage the lies against the truth to see if you truly have loyalty and secrecy on your staff.

Perhaps.

Perhaps all of this is just one big game of chicken for Steve Keim with his friend Jon Gruden of the Raiders, who’s been rumored to possibly want Kyler Murray....but would clearly prefer to keep his draft picks.

You know, from two different places.

Could be these are smoke as well (after all if a team hops the Raiders at 3 for a quarterback, they could land a Bosa/Quinnen/Metcalf at pick #4 easily as well) ....absolutely.

And it might be more than Gruden in general, but it would seem quite fitting to come to this conclusion about the Cardinals situation: they have nothing to gain from telling teams they are taking Murray in March...than by actually drafting him.

Rather, they have everything to gain by playing the “Game of Throws”.

To raise the value of their pick or spread misinformation no matter if they want to trade down or are planning to draft Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams.

All I know is that, in both the conclusion of Game of Thrones and the fulfillment of the 2019 NFL Draft....the end of this “Song of Rosen & Kyler” and one of the greatest TV shows ever?

April can’t get here fast enough.

You can follow @blakemurphy7 on Twitter and listen to him on the Revenge of the Birds podcast weekly.