Before trading up for Josh Rosen and long before the Cardinals selected Kyler Murray first overall, Arizona had yet another QB quandary on their hands. The date was Thursday, April 27th and the event was Round 1 of the 2017 NFL Draft.
For those of you who may not remember, Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer were still hanging around the desert (albeit for one more season). Palmer had previously signed a one year, $24.35 million contract extension entering 2017 and was coming off yet another solid season (4,000 yards passing 26/14 TD/INT ratio).
Despite this, the cagey veteran out of USC was well into his late 30s and the team had no definitive succession plan insight.
Most assumed 2017 would be the last season in Cardinal red for Palmer. And they were right.
Drafting the eventual successor for Palmer made too much sense not to happen and was probably well overdue. While the 2017 draft class contained multiple first round quarterback prospects (based on pre-draft grades), there wasn’t a definitive grasp as to where each would go. There was no “Kyler Murray” or “Cam Newton” to speak of. That being a transformative talent that was the general consensus to be selected first overall.
Instead, there was a trio of quarterbacks, all of whom came with question marks (for the time) and that worked into the Cardinals’ favor.
Or so I thought.
Weeks leading up to the event, the local Arizona media downplayed the notion that the Cardinals needed to draft a quarterback in the first round. If at all.
They nitpicked Texas Tech phenom Patrick Mahomes’ level of competition faced or the style of offense he ran as a Red Raider. They chastised DeShaun Watson’s arm talent and durability. Mitch Trubisky was often deemed the most “pro ready” but still had major question marks considering he only started one full season in college.
Again, there wasn’t a “perfect” prospect available but that’s beside the point. The Cardinals didn’t need “perfect”, they simply needed a prospect. A prospect that could competently hold a clipboard for 16 games while soaking in knowledge from the aforementioned Arians and Palmer. Remember, the team hadn’t drafted a quarterback within the first three rounds since Matt Leinart in 2007.
The pieces were in place for the team to make a significant move at the position, perhaps even by trading up. Up until this point, Cardinal General Manager Steve Keim had been gun shy when it came to pulling the trigger on a trade up for a quarterback prospect. It’s long been rumored that the team had some level of interest, back in 2016, in trading up for Dak Prescott. A year prior, the Cardinals were sniffing around the likes of Memphis’ Paxton Lynch before eventually being jumped by the Denver Broncos. Both drafts yielded very different results when it came to each prospect, but it emphasized the importance of maneuvering to secure your eventual target at the quarterback position.
You simply can’t stand pat. Aggressiveness is generally rewarded.
Unfortunately, this theory was reinforced on the night of April 27, 2017. As the first round kicked off, things looked as if they were seemingly falling into place for the Redbirds. While Trubisky was (perhaps) slightly overdrafted in a trade up by the Chicago Bears, both Mahomes and Watson managed to “escape” the first nine picks without being selected.
Alas, you know how this story ends. Andy Reid and the Chiefs shipped a future first to Buffalo in exchange for pick 10. Kansas City would then go on to secure future league MVP Patrick Mahomes. Two picks later at #12, Houston leapfrogged Arizona for the ultra-productive DeShaun Watson, giving up premium draft capital in the process.
Each of the three draft picks at quarterback were secured via a trade up.
It’s hard for me to put into words exactly how I felt moments after these two scenarios took place.
Numbness comes to mind.
Haason Reddick would soon find his way to the desert at pick 13, securing the ever elusive “off ball” linebacker former head coach Bruce Arians covets.
A little over two years later, all three quarterbacks have led their teams to the post season. Mahomes looks primed for a Hall of Fame career, while Watson has a sparkling 45/17 TD to INT ratio in just 23 games played. Even Trusbiky, the clear cut #3 QB of this group, set several passing records in Chicago last season. The former Tarheel was a missed field goal away from leading the dormant Bears to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have gone through one of the most publicly embarrassing quarterback searches in recent memory. The team started three different signal callers in 2017, in route to a mediocre 8-8 record. The following season, Keim invested nearly $25 million in free agent dollars to secure the likes of Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. A month later, he finally pulled the trigger on a trade up, packaging multiple picks to move from 15 to 10 and securing UCLA’s Josh Rosen in the process.
You know the rest.
But what about Haason Reddick? The player the franchise deemed they had a top 5 grade on prior to the draft. Well, in two seasons played, he has yet to carve out a definitive role for himself and was even (partially) benched a season ago by then head coach Steve Wilks. Entering year three, under his third different defensive coordinator, no one really knows if he’s better suited as an ILB or edge rusher.
Perhaps he figures it out this year.
What we do know, definitively, is that he doesn’t make the Cardinals Super Bowl contenders in 2019. The same cannot be said for the likes of Trubisky, Mahomes or Watson.
April 27th, 2017 remains one of the darkest days in recent memory for the Arizona Cardinals and their long suffering fan base. It’s been rumored that the Bengals were asking Steve Keim to merely part ways with a Day 2 pick in exchange for the 9th overall selection. A selection that would have been used on Patrick Mahomes.
Instead, the Cardinals will go into the 2019 season with their third different “opening Sunday” quarterback in as many years.