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Greatest showman or circus clown?: Keim’s handling of Rosen and the #1 pick

What the Cardinals plan to do with the #1 pick has been shrouded in mystery. Is GM Steve Keim playing a shrewd long game, or does the mystery mask indecision?

NFL: Combine
GM Steve Keim has been in the spotlight more than ever this offseason. How has he handled the situation?
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As the hours count down until the Arizona Cardinals are officially on the clock in the 2019 NFL Draft, only one thing is certain:

No one knows what Steve Keim and the Cardinals are going to do with the #1 pick.

The chatter around the team, both locally and nationally, is that Keim has done a masterful job keeping the rest of the league on their toes. Are we keeping the pick? Trading it? Taking Kyler Murray? Going defense?

No one knows. Maybe Keim doesn’t even know for certain what he’s going to do yet.

If Keim’s goal is smokescreen, subterfuge, mystery, then he’s succeeded admirably. There’s an air of intrigue around the #1 pick that isn’t present most years—not even last year when the Cleveland Browns surprised everyone by taking Baker Mayfield at #1.

Keim has done a great job these past several weeks of being a showman, there’s no doubt about it.

But showmanship isn’t in Keim’s job description as an NFL GM. His job is team building. That’s it. That’s the job.

And if Keim’s goal is to build a stronger Arizona Cardinals football team—and it had better be—then all this showmanship doesn’t make a lick of sense if, after tonight’s first round, Josh Rosen is still on the team.

Now, I’m admittedly on the Kyler Murray bandwagon. But this isn’t about that. This is about the potential future of the team if Keim doesn’t do what most expect he will and draft Murray. This is about the potential damage Keim has already done to the team by mishandling the situation with the #1 pick, and how he could compound it by making the wrong decision with the pick.

Don’t know what I mean? Let’s quickly run through the non-Murray scenarios that could play out later today.

Scenario #1: Keep the #1 Pick, Draft a Defensive Player

This is what most people thought we would do when we originally secured the #1 pick. Doesn’t it seem like a lifetime ago when we thought Nick Bosa to the Redbirds was a lock?

If Keim goes this route, not only would it be utterly anticlimactic, but all the smoke and mirrors of the past month or two would have been for absolutely nothing—no extra picks, no splashy, headline-dominating narrative, no help for the offense.

Obviously, grabbing Bosa or Quinnen Williams would be a huge boon to our defense, but running back largely the same group of guys responsible for one of the worst offenses in the NFL in decades would be a hard pill for Cardinals fans to swallow.

Of course, Keim shouldn’t be making picks based on the whims of the fanbase, and maybe new coach Kliff Kingsbury can nudge the offense closer to league average all by himself. But I don’t think this approach—using the #1 pick on a defensive player when the offense is in such dire need of help—is the best one from a team-building perspective.

Not only do we miss out on the opportunity to add more talent via extra picks, but the offense seems likely to be a massive weakness again, which could potentially cause a schism in the locker room, as sometimes happens when one unit vastly outperforms the other. (And note that Patrick Peterson is already upset about… something.) Combine all that with the potential fallout from how the team has handled Josh Rosen during all this (see below), and this scenario could turn out to be a huge error on Keim’s part.

Next, let’s take a look at what seems to be the preferred scenario for many Cardinals fans.

Scenario #2: Trade Down, Take a Defensive Player

This scenario has obvious appeal: we can stockpile extra picks to help fill myriad roster holes, we don’t give up on the guy we drafted in the 1st round last year, and we still have a chance to land an impact defensive rookie like Williams, Ed Oliver, or Josh Allen.

Honestly, even as a Murray acolyte, I’d be more or less okay with this scenario coming to fruition.

However, the question would then become, “Why put Josh Rosen through all that?” Dealing away the #1 pick would tell me the team never actually seriously considered taking Murray—they were just waiting for the right offer all along.

In that case, hanging Rosen out to dry in the media like the team has done just isn’t a good look, even if they were reassuring him in private all along. That in and of itself could have far-reaching repercussions (again, see below).

Now, speaking of the “Chosen One,” let’s briefly discuss the potential fallout of the past couple months and how it could impact Rosen both in 2019 and down the road.

The Rosen Question

Here’s what we know about Rosen’s offseason so far: He’s done everything he’s supposed to do from a team perspective, he got a very lukewarm endorsement from Keim, he’s been linked to a bonanza of trade rumors, and he’s been “annoyed” with the whole process.

Here’s what we don’t know: What assurances, if any, Keim has given his young QB behind closed doors.

Let’s say that Keim showed Rosen his “Josh Rosen no matter what” sticky note and assured him that he was still the team’s quarterback of the future. Well, we also know that Rosen definitely holds a grudge. He won’t be likely to forget being dragged through the wringer in the media during his first offseason in the NFL. By not publicly endorsing his QB, Keim has potentially planted a seed of discord that could blossom into something ugly at any time.

Or let’s say Keim gave Rosen no assurances and left him hanging in private as well. Could you imagine a scenario where this affects Rosen’s confidence after an already shaky rookie season and perhaps further stunts his development? Especially considering that Keim has done next to nothing to help his young QB this offseason? I certainly can.

Keim’s handling of Rosen just one year after trading up to draft him has left me scratching my head. I’m sure many players on the team feel the same way. Is this the best way to build a team?

Final Thoughts

Of course, all these potential issues would immediately become moot if Keim does what is expected and drafts Murray (and, presumably, trades Rosen). Our new coach gets a dynamic QB who fits his system, the empty seats start to fill up on Sundays, and the Redbirds rise to the top of the NFL zeitgeist. (Okay, this was a little bit about Murray after all.)

That’s the only move that makes sense with this smoke-and-mirrors act, with Kingsbury now at the helm, with the lack of a firm Rosen endorsement.

It’s also the one move Keim can make that’s a potential career-defining (career-saving?) home run. If he takes the undersized, baseball-playing Heisman winner to pair with the unproven, offensive whiz kid college coach and it works? Keim would be NFL royalty. That doesn’t happen even if Bosa or Williams merely becomes a 10-year Pro Bowler.

And maybe that’s really what these past months have been about after all, what the point of Keim’s “Greatest Showman” act has been. A GM with a bit of an ego swinging for the fences? I can live with that.

What I couldn’t live with is the alternative. That the market for neither the pick nor the player were what he thought it was. That the three-ring circus has really been about confusion, that the mystery has masked indecision, that Keim has been shadowboxing with himself the whole time.

If the first round comes and goes tonight and Josh “Right Now, For Sure” Rosen is still the quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals, we’ll have a lot bigger problems on our hands than a shaky 2nd-year QB.

We’ll have a circus clown at GM.

And 2019 could turn out to be even worse than 2018.