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Cardinals now set to test their own draft picks at QB

What does the future hold for the Cardinals at QB?

Arizona Cardinals Introduce Jonathan Gannon as Head Coach Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Thus far after 8 games this season, Cardinals’ GM Monti Ossenfort and head coach Jonathan Gannon, have gained zero equity at the QB position.

When I use the term “equity” I am talking about giving snaps to players who are much more likely to be on the team for years to come and pay meaningful dividends, rather than playing one-year rentals.

Hopefully, Clayton Tune and Kyler Murray can play well enough to provide the team with long-term equity at the position —- but at this point in the team’s 1-7 season, and with neither of them having taken a single snap in a game thus far, the odds aren’t exactly in their favor for having immediate success.

Some Cardinals’ fans appear to be rejoicing the fact that Monti Ossenfort was able to get a 6th round pick from the Vikings in return for 8-game starter Joshua Dobbs plus a conditional 7th round pick. Yet, some fans and national pundits are not feeling as impressed:

To which, I tweeted:

The Cardinals have now spent the last 6 months giving their first team reps to Colt McCoy and Josh Dobbs. And now both McCoy and Dobbs are gone.

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The Dobbs trade did not sit well with ESPN Analytics’ Seth Walder who grades the deadline trades.

NFL trade grades: 2023 deadline report cards for big deals - ESPN

Cardinals trade QB Dobbs to Vikings

Cardinals get: 2024 sixth-round pick

Vikings get: QB Joshua Dobbs, conditional 2024 seventh-round pick

Trade date: Oct. 31

Grade for the Vikings: A

Minnesota was at a crossroads after quarterback Kirk Cousins’ injury, sitting at 4-4 without a quarterback and some parts of the season going surprisingly well (offensive line! defense) and other parts not so much (WR Justin Jefferson’s injury). Should the Vikings add a QB or keep their resources?

The Cardinals let them do both.

I’m pretty shocked by how cheap the compensation is. In his half-season tenure as the Cardinals’ starter, Dobbs recorded a 47 QBR (19th best). That comes with some caveats. When win probability was 15-85%, the Cardinals ran the most run-heavy offense in the league (53% designed pass rate), the most play-action (35% of dropbacks) and the fifth-most designed rollouts (8%). In those situations, Dobbs threw against light boxes just 62% of the time, the fourth-lowest rate. In other words: Arizona was pulling the easy levers (as it should), which helped Dobbs out.

But he was still better than some starting quarterbacks, proved his worth as a high-end backup and, for Minnesota, is almost certainly an upgrade over rookie fifth-rounder Jaren Hall.

Dobbs is only under contract for 2023. It seems possible he could stick with the Vikings as a high-end backup after this season but if not, he might net more as a compensatory selection than what the Vikings gave up.

Before I saw the compensation, I was prepared to criticize the Vikings for using draft resources in an attempt to fight with the Saints and Falcons to be a hopeless No. 7 seed. But when the cost is so low, why not compete?

Grade for the Cardinals: C-

I wasn’t opposed to the idea of the Cardinals trading the QB given that they’re out of contention, will likely soon turn to Kyler Murray and might not gain a compensatory pick for Dobbs if they decide to spend in free agency.

But the return here is paltry, and likely less than what a compensatory pick would be (probably a sixth- or seventh-round pick) if they got one. Dobbs might have been useful as a backup for Arizona in the future, too, though that would have been on a new contract.

Ultimately, I’m surprised this was all Arizona could get for Dobbs considering the value of quarterbacks, even backups.

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The fact that the Cardinals spent a 5th round pick on Dobbs two weeks before Week 1 —- then after 8 starts with the Cardinals, the Cardinals could only manage to get a 6th round pick and have to add a conditional 7th round pick for Dobbs —- to a QB needy team in contention for making the playoffs —- proves that during Dobbs’ 10-week tenure in Arizona his market value depreciated, at least from the Cardinals’ front office’s standpoint and apparently the league’s.

Josh Dobbs did some impressive things in Arizona. He learned the offense in a New York minute, he ran the ball with exemplary toughness, speed and grit, he endeared himself to the media with his eloquence and optimism, he played very well versus two of the top 3 defenses in the NFL, DAL and SF. And he threw the ball well in those games, making a number of pundits and fans wonder if Dobbs could be a legitimate starting QB in the NFL. I began to think that myself.

However, over the past four games, for whatever reason, Dobbs’ throwing mechanics fell way out of whack. Those woes began when he started throwing flat-footed which led to an array of poor release points, which often caused the ball to wobble or sail. As a result, the offense got terribly conservative to the point of Dobbs repeatedly throwing well short of the sticks on 3rd downs which one witty Cardinals’ fan coined a “3rd and Give Up” offense. (please remind me who you are!)

Kevin O’Connell will have to try to sort out Dobbs’ throwing fundamentals —- which, for some reason, Drew Petzing and Israel Woolfork were unable to do. We have seen, that when Dobbs sets his feet and arm angle properly, he can throw dimes, as he did on a number of occasions on intermediate passes to Michael Wilson.

But what O’Connell needs to do the most with Josh Dobbs is help rectify his propensity to have the 4th quarter willies. Over the course of Dobbs’ 10 games as an NFL starter, he has lost key fumbles while trying to protect 4th quarter leads as he did versus the Jaguars in Week 17 last year for the Titans or as he did Week 1 this year versus the Redskins.

In 6 of Josh Dobbs’ first 7 starts with the Cardinals the offense scored 0 4th quarter points.

The irony is that Josh Dobbs finally broke through in the 4th quarter of last week’s 31-24 loss to the Ravens, when the game was seemingly out of reach, leading the team to 17 4th quarter points.

Up until that point, here was Dobbs’ and the Cardinals’ point totals versus the opponents in 4th quarters:

  • Week 1 —- ARI 0, WAS 10
  • Week 2 —- ARI 0, NYG 17
  • Week 3 —- ARI 7, DAL 3
  • Week 4 —- ARI 0, SF 14
  • Week 5 —- ARI 0, CIN 10
  • Week 6 —- ARI 0, LAR 10
  • Week 7 —- ARI 0, SEA 3

Totals: ARI 7, Opponents 67 (1-6 record with the 1 win being the 1-time ARI outscored DAL)

  • Week 8 —- ARI 17, BAL 10

Imagine last week, if Josh Dobbs hadn’t tossed the two poorly thrown interceptions, first in a 7-7 game right before half-time, ugh, and second in a 14-7 game, which led to short field TDs by the Ravens, the Cardinals might have pulled the amazing upset and rewarded the defense for their Herculean effort.

To Dobbs’ and his teammates’ credit, they never gave up in the 4th quarter.

Hopefully for Josh Dobbs, this momentum will carry over into his games with the Vikings, if and when he gets his chance.

Some Equity Finally Begins at QB for the Cardinals

When Clayton Tune was drafted with the #139th pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, he made it clear that he wanted to prove he is just as good, if not better than the QBs taken ahead of him. One thing that Tune had on his side in making that argument was that no QB taken ahead of him had passed for more yards (11,994) and TDs (104) the way he did throughout his college career at Houston. Sure, Tune played for more seasons than most of the others, but regardless, Tune’s college numbers and career 148.6 passer rating are very impressive.

And let’s not ignore that fact that Tune’s 1,248 rushing yards were more than the top 4 QBs taken in the draft and his 15 rushing TDs were second to only Will Levis’ (17). Not to say Clayton Tune is as dynamic a runner as Anthony Richardson (1.116 yards, 12 TDs at Florida), but Tune is more mobile than he typically gets credit for.

Back in late August here was my case for the Cardinals to start Clayton Tune on Week 1:

Clayton Tune is no ordinary rookie QB - Revenge of the Birds

However, the perception was that the coaches had decided to protect Clayton Tune because he is a rookie whose pre-season success came mostly against 2nd and 3rd stringers.

What now feels highly ironic about the argument to protect Clayton Tune is that the coaches now have ruled him as a strong possibility to start against the Browns, who boast the NFL’s #1 defense in yards allowed per game at 260.

Having iced Clayton Tune over the first 8 weeks when the team had chances to at least give him some second half snaps and now throwing him out there versus a stellar Jim Schwartz defense will make it an especially daunting task for Tune.

But Tune is a hungry player who will relish the opportunity to try his best, despite the circumstances. His ability to maneuver his feet inside the pocket, which was an issue for Josh Dobbs should certainly come in handy versus Miles Garrett and crew.

Should Tune struggle as one would expect, would it be fair for pundits and fans to say “see, this is why Clayton Tune wasn’t ready to play earlier this season”? Given the opponent and being almost 10 weeks since Tune took his last snap in a game, such judgments should be tempered —- but likely won’t. That’s why, in some respects, this feels like a no-win situation for Clayton Tune.

Because of the formidable nature of the opponent’s defense and the fact that Kyler Murray has only had 6 practices under his belt, the likelihood of Clayton Tune starting versus the Browns is very high. In fact, there’s a possibility that the coaches will bring up Jeff Driskel from the practice squad to be QB2, so that Kyler can serve as the emergency QB and therefore eliminate any question about him playing this week.

What’s fascinating about the Dobbs trade is that it virtually has placed a guarantee that Kyler Murray will return to action, if not this week, but next week at home versus the Falcons.

While Jonathan Gannon has indicated that Kyler is “fully healthy” and that his skills and command of the offense have been jaw-dropping in practice, there are still questions about the timing of Kyler’s return —- those questions coming from Kyler himself, when he told the CBS crew last week that while he’s “champing at the bit to play”, he said he needs to “listen to what my body is telling me.” Apparently, Kyler has been practicing without a knee brace, which is a very good sign that he feels confident enough to play unencumbered.

There are those who believe that the mutually agreed-to plan all along has been for Kyler to return Week 10 versus the Falcons. That very well may be the case. But, the question is, does Kyler still have some wiggle room as to when he feels ready to return?

Kyler will be added to the 53-man roster because his 3 weeks on the designated return from PUP list will be over at the end of this week. However, as Drew Petzing cunningly put it this week, (to paraphrase) “whenever Kyler is fully ready, he’ll be fully ready to play.”

If Kyler does get the start this week or next, he essentially will be in a similar situation as Josh Dobbs was in his first start —- that is —- without the benefit Josh Dobbs had of practicing and playing with the Browns during OTAs, training camp and the pre-season and of course, not having to come back from a 10-month ACL rehab.

To expect Kyler to step right in and be an immediate success in Petzing’s offense would be wishful thinking. He will handle some aspects of the offense with aplomb but will likely struggle at times with some of the other more nuanced aspects.

The question is —- how much does Kyler have to gain at this point in the season, particularly if questions arise about his compatibility with Drew Petzing’s new pro-style offense? With such little time to prepare himself while also having to cope with coming off the most devastating injury of his career—- this may be a disservice to Kyler to rush him along this quickly.

And yet the poignant irony looms that no matter what Kyler does, come next April, if Monti Ossenfort finds himself in a position to draft his own QB whom he believes is more talented and/or better suited to take command of Drew Petzing’s offense, then running the risk of Kyler struggling and even worse, getting injured, could diminish the chances of Ossenfort getting decent trade value in return for Kyler.

Ideally, the highest reward for playing Kyler would be for him to remove all doubt that he is the new regime’s QB of choice. But what are the odds of Kyler doing that under the current circumstances?

Commentary:

The best way for Kyler to remove all doubt is to have an entire off-season getting down every nuance of the Petzing’s offense and subsequently feeling fully heathy and fully prepared to ball out.

Thus, I fear that Kyler playing this soon may also be a no-win situation.

When I look at the nature of Drew Petzing’s pro-style offense, I think it is tailor made for a proto-typical pocket passer, who has the footwork and poise to maneuver within the pocket to create clearer passing lanes.

To me, the offense and Petzing’s heavy use of 12 and 13 personnel looks very much like a Patriots’ style offense, the one that Tom Brady made famous.

I believe that Kyler Murray is better suited to play the spread from the shotgun. Things felt apart between Kyler and Kliff Kingsbury, but if Kyler hooks up with another HC or OC who has a mastery of spread concepts, I believe he can take his game to the next level.

I found it curious all along that Michael Bidwill and Monti Ossenfort decided to hire a defensive-minded HC who then hired an inexperienced OC who runs a very different style of offense than what Kyler has played in his entire football life.

The question for me become —-if Kyler struggles, given the current circmustances —- who goes next, Kyler or Gannon/Petzing?

I tell you what —- there is NFL coach right now who could be absolutely brilliant with Kyler. You may have seen him on the opposite sidelines this past week. His name is Todd Monken, the Ravens’ OC and former Georgia Bulldogs’ OC. Look at how Monken has opened up the Ravens offense for Lamar Jackson in ways that the far more conservative Greg Roman ever could.

This just in —- from what we have seen of Drew Petzing’s offense, it is much more similar to Greg Roman’s as it is to Todd Monken’s or Mike McDaniels’ or even Arthur Smith’s.

Poll

If Kyler struggles in Drew Petzing’s offense do you...

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Keep Kyler and hire new OC
    (18 votes)
  • 4%
    Keep Kyler and hire Todd Monken as HC
    (9 votes)
  • 50%
    Trade Kyler and use one of the 1st round picks on a QB
    (96 votes)
  • 2%
    Trade Kyler and sign a free agent QB like Kirk Cousins
    (4 votes)
  • 31%
    Keep Kyler with current coaching staff in place
    (59 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (4 votes)
190 votes total Vote Now

As endeared as Ossenfort appears to be of JG and Drew Petzing, there are tangible reasons to believe that if Kyler does not take well to the new offense, then they could move on from Kyler and acquire the QB of their choice, likely in the 2024 NFL Draft. Or. perhaps in free agency.

Of the 2024 NFL free agent QBs, the only one who appears to be a natural fit in Drew Petzing’s offense is Kirk Cousins. It just so happens that Jonathan Gannon and Drew Petzing have ties to Cousins, having previously worked on the Vikings’ staff. Petzing was Cousins’ assistant QB coach in 2018 and his wide receivers coach in 2019, before coming over to the Browns with Kevin Stefanski in 2020.

Now, with Cousins turning 36 next August and coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, while still commanding a reasonably hefty salary, perhaps it would be wiser to acquire a QB in the 2024 NFL Draft.

In evaluating the top rated QBs who should be entering the 2024 NFL Draft, the three QBs who stand out as being best suited for Petzing’s system are Caleb Williams of USC, Drake Maye of North Carolina and J.J. McCarthy of Michigan. I believe that Williams, Maye and McCarthy will be drafted in the top 10. Thus, with 2 first round picks, Monti Ossenfort should be able to pick one of the three, depending on how he wants to maneuver the draft.

Monti Ossenfort and Dave Sears have been doing their due diligence in scouting the 2024 QBs. It would be interesting to know how they rank Williams, Maye and McCarthy and whether they already perceive one, two or all three of them as a stronger fit for their offense than Kyler.

The fact that they appear eager to see Kyler play, indicates that they want to see how adaptable Kyler is to the system before solidifying their short- and long-term plans at QB.

I have sensed from the beginning of Monti Ossenfort’s tenure that both of he and Kyler are in a test-each-other-out mode. It’s quite possible that Kyler is a little leery himself of how well he fits in the new offense and whether the current rebuild is going to take a few years longerto complete, especially given the current strength of the rosters in San Francisco and Seattle.

Therefore, Kyler’s return could very well be a mutual feeling-out phase in order to determine whether the fit is natural for both the team and Kyler and iwhether the fit is strong enough to warrant a long-term, mutual commitment.