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The center of the NFL universe: A brief look at the Cardinals’ big decision

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All eyes are on the Arizona Cardinals as the NFL Draft approaches. What will they do with the #1 overall pick? Who will be their QB next season? Let’s briefly look at the potential scenarios that could unfold in the next two months.

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals- Kliff Kingsbury Press Conference
The Cardinals’ top brass have a monumental decision in front of them. What will they do with their moment in the spotlight?
The Arizona Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK

The combine is over, free agency is about to begin, the draft is on the horizon, and the Arizona Cardinals have found themselves at the center of the NFL universe.

Think about that for a second.

Just two months ago, the team was limping to the end of a putrid 3-13 season that saw its first-year head coach fired and its GM nearly lose his job as well. It was almost unthinkable at that point that every NFL pundit—the Schefters, the Kipers, the Kings of the world—would soon be breathlessly reporting Cardinals rumors, but then a few strange things happened.

You know the story—we got the #1 pick, we hired Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray spurned the A’s, and suddenly the Cardinals were back in the national spotlight for the first time since the fabled 2008 Super Bowl run. But all the rumors, all the hype, all the attention boils down to one simple question:

“What will the Cardinals do with the #1 pick?”

Up until recently, the answer seemed to be either “Take Nick Bosa” or “trade down.” But the Murray rumors—and the resulting uncertainty about Josh Rosen that has accompanied the rumors—have complicated things.

So, in the name of simplicity, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the three scenarios the Cardinals currently seem to have in front of them. We’ll start with the simplest of them—and the one that may be least likely to occur at this point.

Scenario #1: Keep the #1 pick, take Nick Bosa

Pros: The Cardinals were already fifth in the league in sacks last season with 49, and pairing Bosa with Chandler Jones might just give us the best pass rush in football. You also have a ready-made replacement for Jones when he retires/moves on (his contract is up in in 3 years). This scenario is also a big vote of confidence in Josh Rosen, whom the team can continue to build around with the #33 pick (OL? WR?). He probably needs all the confidence boosts he can get after a shaky (to put it kindly) rookie season and the swirling trade rumors.

Cons: To commit to this scenario, the Cardinals had better be sure that Rosen is going to be an above-average starter. Having two stud pass rushers (assuming that Bosa stays healthy) won’t mean much if Rosen is a bust. It’s impossible to say how Rosen will develop right now after a rookie season in which he wasn’t given any chance to succeed—but the track record for QBs who had rookie seasons like his is not good. This scenario also doesn’t allow the team to acquire extra picks/players by trading the #1 pick—or Rosen.

Scenario #2: Trade the #1 pick, keep Josh Rosen

Pros: By trading down within the top 10 and potentially getting an extra #1 next year and other mid-round picks the next two seasons, the Cardinals would be able to accelerate their rebuild, similar to what the Browns did when they traded the #2 pick back in 2016. Ideally, the Redbirds would still be able to snag either of the Williamses—Quinnen or Jonah—and address their myriad other roster holes with the extra picks. As in the scenario above, this is also a vote of confidence in Rosen, but an extra #1 next year would make it easier to move on from Rosen in the 2020 draft if he doesn’t improve in Year 2—or add even more talent around him if he does improve.

Cons: The only real downside to this pick is the potential FOMO—fear of missing out. Nick Bosa is a potential roster cornerstone, according to league consensus. The players the Cardinals could take if they trade down don’t quite have the same potential. (Acknowledging, of course, that the draft is a crapshoot and not all #1 picks work out.) Also, the elephant in the room: What if Kyler Murray is a franchise NFL QB? That leads us nicely to the final scenario.

Scenario #3: Keep the #1 pick, take Kyler Murray, trade Josh Rosen

Pros: It’s admittedly hard to defend this scenario from a conventional/logical standpoint—but convention and logic went out the window when we hired Kingsbury. So, with that in mind, this is easily the most exciting of these scenarios—the narrative, the inventiveness, the sheer boldness of the attempt. If the Cardinals want to be a relevant franchise again, this is the easiest way to do it—way easier than actually winning games. And if we’re talking actual football, most pundits seem to think that Murray is a better fit for Kingsbury’s offense than Rosen—and we would then be able to get an extra pick for trading him. A 1st-rounder from a team like Miami or Washington might be gettable, or hopefully a 2nd-rounder if not. (I doubt they’d have to settle for a 3rd.)

Cons: Simply put, this could blow up spectacularly. Maybe Murray does prove to be too small, or maybe he struggles just as badly as Rosen did—and maybe Rosen goes on to become a star wherever he’s traded to. It’s easy to imagine Kingsbury and Keim both being out of jobs in a year or two in this scenario. Add in the fact that there would be not-insignificant salary cap ramifications if we traded Rosen, and this is easily the most risky scenario—but it might also offer the most reward.

Final Thoughts

Here’s the TL;DR version of the scenarios the Cardinals have to decide between this offseason:

  1. Go into next season with Josh Rosen at QB and Nick Bosa as a pass-rushing bookend opposite Chandler Jones. We get no extra picks in this scenario.
  2. Go into next season with Josh Rosen at QB and surround him with all the talent the extra draft picks can buy (let’s say a top-10 2019 1st-rounder, a 2019 3rd-rounder, and a 2020 1st-rounder at minimum).
  3. Roll the dice and go with Kyler Murray at QB and an extra 2019 2nd-rounder to help shore up the roster around him (or potentially another 1st-rounder).

Steve Keim and Michael Bidwill are likely discussing these very scenarios as you’re reading this—and they will be for the next several weeks (barring something monumentally unexpected before the league year starts). Which of these scenarios gives the team the best chance to succeed not only in 2019 but in the years beyond? Which scenario will allow the Arizona Cardinals to stay relevant in the NFL universe? The franchise has never faced bigger questions than these.

Your turn, Cardinals fans. Which of these scenarios seems like the best path to success? Which seems the least fruitful? Give us your own pros and cons in the comments.