Background: KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - APRIL 27: Paris Johnson Jr. walks onstage after being selected sixth overall by the Arizona Cardinals during the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station on April 27, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images.
Much of what I am about to say is an attempt to connect the dots as to how and why the Cardinals pulled off the niftiest set of 1st round maneuvers that I have ever seen throughout my six decades of Cardinals fandom.
The most important preparation for the draft was made the day that Cardinals’ new GM hired Dave Sears (Lions’ Director of College Scouting) as his assistant GM.
MO and DS (aka MODS) go way back to their early days as college scouts when they worked for the Houston Texans. Throughout the years while working for different franchises, they have remained in close touch, through weekly phone calls.
This was such a timely and important hire because it allowed MO to put the draft prep in the hands of a trusted, fully-aligned colleague while MO’s time was being consumed by hiring a head coach and coaching staff —- trying to get the scouts and coaches aligned —- trying to study the Cardinals’ current roster —- and overseeing the Cardinals’ wheeling and dealings of free agency.
Coming into the draft, MO and DS were fully prepared for the scenarios that arose —-
What was clear from the get-go —- their hope was to trade down AND still be able to draft T Paris Johnson Jr. from Ohio St.
Why PJJ? Coming into the draft the Cardinals had interviewed more offensive tackles than any players at other positions.
One of the main reasons why the Lions are now a legitimate playoff contender was the work that Dave Sears and the scouts did in drafting these 4 OL studs:
- LT Taylor Decker (R1, 2016)
- LG Jonah Jackson (R3, 2020)
- C Frank Ragnow (R1, 2018)
- RT Penei Sewell (R1, 2021)
Thus, the Cardinals’ plan for this draft was to take PJJ in Round 1 and draft a center on Day 2 or Day 3. More on this later on.
As the draft started, they pretty much knew that the Panthers would take QB Bryce Young of Alabama.
What they didn’t know was whether the Texans at #2 would take OLB Will Anderson Jr. of Alabama or QB J.C. Stroud of Ohio St.
But, MODS were prepared for either outcome.
Had the Texans taken Anderson and were not interested in trading for the #3 pick, MODS had a deal in place with the Tennessee Titans (via MO’s connection with Mike Vrabel). I believe the Cardinals would have received the Titans’ #11 and #81 picks, plus their 2024 1st and 3rd round picks for the #3.
The Texans did a very shrewd thing by selecting J.C. Stroud first. Knowing how much trade attention the Cardinals would receive at #3, should Stroud have been available, they felt they would have a stronger chance of making the trade with Arizona for the #3 pick.
Monti Ossenfort said that knowing Texans’ GM Nick Caserio from their Patriots’ days, as well as he did, they were able to say to each other “this is what I need to close the deal.” After a furious 2-3 minutes of trade talk volleying, they agreed to terms.
What the Texans did not know for sure was whether the Titans or Raiders would want o trade up for Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. Therefore, Monti Ossenfort was able to use the terms of the trade he had in place with the Titans as a measuring stick, even though he pretty much knew the Titans’ target was Stroud. With Stroud off the board, so very likely was the pre-agreed trade with the Titans.
When the Texans offered their #12, #33 pick plus their 2024 1st and 2024 3rd, it was a better offer because of the #33 pick and the consideration that the Texans’ 2024 picks would most likely be a tad more valuable than the Titans’. This is why MODS also agree to send the #105 pick to the Texans to seal the deal.
Boom —- they took the Texans’ offer and ran with it.
The 2024 first-round pick that we received from the Texans tonight will be Houston's pick in the 2024 Draft. https://t.co/hC3eptAkzi— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) April 28, 2023
Amazing MO as 1st year GM working this draft thru close connections w HOU GM Nick Caserio (Patriots) and DET (asst. GM Dave Sears). The haul from HOU is tremendous. It's a QB haul. Then to take best OL in draft in Paris Johnson Jr. who then tells us his dad was a is awesome!— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) April 28, 2023
That right —- a “QB” type of haul for an OLB.
Part 1 accomplished —-the trade was as good as any trade they could have imagined, particularly for a non-QB.
If you listened to MODS’ post-draft press conferences, DS said that he and MO had worked through a number of “trade down and trade up” scenarios.
The Lions have been working the draft like this (trade down, then trade back up) very effectively for a couple of years now —- and no one is more of a fan of this strategy than Dave Sears.
When we learned from Paris Johnson Jr. how he made it clear to MODS that “I want to be a Cardinal; I want to finish what my dad started” and how well connected Paris Johnson Jr. was with Kyler Murray, D.J., Humphries and other players who spoke with him during his “30” visit —-it’s no wonder why PJJ emerged as the Cardinals priority pick in Round 1. His supreme talent —- plus his pure excitement to be a Cardinal was a total win-win.
Therefore, MODS were studying the teams that were picking between #4 and #12 and they pretty much knew that their only hope of being able to draft PJJ was to trade back up —- ideally as high as they could because they had already received some calls from teams that wanted to move up to #3 for PJJ.
MODS knew —- there was no way PJJ would be on the board at pick #12.
This is where the Cardinals can thank the Seahawks for paving the way for PJJ.
That’s right —- the Seahawks.
At #5 the Seahawks, with Will Anderson Jr. off the board, picked the Lions top choice, CB Devon Witherspoon.
Dave Sears had a hunch to call the Lions pronto —- because if Witherspoon was their guy, then they might do what they like to do —-move down to then move back up.
It has since been confirmed that the Lions were targeting two players at #6, Will Anderson Jr. and Devon Witherspoon. So, when MODS called, they agreed to trade their #6 and #81 picks to the Cardinals for their #12, #34 and #168 picks.
With the 6th Pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals select Paris Johnson Jr. pic.twitter.com/tbIUExCBqt— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) April 28, 2023
The ensuing celebration from Paris Johnson Jr. was extraordinarily uplifting, especially for downtrodden Cardinals fans. This dude wanted more than anything to be an Arizona Cardinal.
PARIS JOHNSON JR.— Sam Block (@theblockspot) April 28, 2023
FIRED UP TO BE A CARDINAL.
As for the Lions, after missing out on smashmouth CB Devon Witherspoon, their next priority was to draft a stud RB to feature behind their vaunted OL. They may have believed that Bijan Robinson would still be on the board at #12, but they also had a very high grade on Jahmyr Gibbs.
One nugget in here: The Lions reportedly heard the Patriots liked Jahmyr Gibbs and wanted to make sure they could pick him before .— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) May 1, 2023
Detroit wound up taking the Alabama RB at No. 12 and, before trading down w/ ARI, was "ready to" take him at 6, ahead of Bijan Robinson. https://t.co/GGAJFevL83
The Lions were also able to address their desire to draft a slot CB when they got one of the best steals of the draft in Brian Branch at pick #45. PFF called Branch the best pick of Round 2.
Entering into Day 2 of the draft, after cashing in on the good fortune of Will Anderson Jr. and Devon Witherspoon being taken in the first 5 picks, it was a slight miracle that Will Levis had managed to slide all the way through round 1.
Thus, with Will Levis still on the board at pick #33, the pick the Cardinals had received from the Texans, they were able to resume trade talks with the Titans.
More than likely, MO and Ran Carthon/Mike Vrable had agreed overnight to the trade —-contingent on Will Levis being available —- on these terms:
We have agreed to trade with the Tennessee Titans. pic.twitter.com/qzw153jgsp— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) April 28, 2023
If you are asking yourself, as I have been, why first year GMs Monti Ossenfort and Dave Sears were so successful in getting these key trades done, here are the things that pop out:
1 —- taking advantage of close contacts who MODS know and trust.
2 —- pre-draft trade discussions that could save time on the clock
3 —- giving a little extra to get the deals done —- notice that in these trades the Cardinals gave up the following 2023 picks: #3 (HOU), #12 (DET), #33 (TEN), ,#34 (DET), #81 (TEN), #105 (HOU), #168 (DET). In other words, MODS were willing to be flexible.
Amazingly —- when MODS were needing a trading partner at pick #96 in order to pick up 4th and/or 5th round picks, which by then, the Cardinals did not have any in other round, Dave Sears got a friendly call from the Lions and voila —- the Lions were willing to trade up to the 96th pick to select DT Brodric Martin of Western Kentucky and give the Cardinals picks #122, #139 and return the #168 pick as well. In a poof, the Cardinals added three picks to start Day 3 with.
Trade details with the Detroit Lions pic.twitter.com/AZHYgHw6dH— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) April 29, 2023
That trade was a godsend.
Obviously, the Lions had a very high grade on NT Brodric Martin (6-5, 337, Western Kentucky), whom Lindy’s had as a priority un-drafted free agent, PFF had at #163 on their big board and Mel Kiper Jr. had rated as his #20 defensive tackle.
Essentially for giving the Lions the chance to draft Brodric Martin, the Cardinals were able to draft:
- #122 Jon Gaines II, C/G, UCLA
- #139 Clayton Tune, QB, Houston
- #168 Owen Pappoe, LB, Auburn
It is my belief that the analytics (physical and football IQ) are so impressive with regard to Jon Gaines II, that MODS identified him as their center of choice and are looking for him to compete for and possibly win the starting center job, if not by the start of the season, at some point during the season.
Dave Sears drafted Pro Bowl C Frank Ragnow in R1 of the 2018 NFL Draft. Check out these comps:
- Ragnow, 6-5, 312, 4.99 40, arms 33 1/8”, hands 9 3/8” 4.51 20 yard shuttle, 8.04 3 cone, 33.5” vertical.
- Gaines: 6-4, 303, 5.01 40, arms 33 5/8”, hands 10 1.8”, 4.45 20 yard shuttle, 7.31 3 cone, 32.5” vertical.
During the post-draft press conference, Monti Ossenfort said that he received numerous trade proposals during Day 3, but that “none of them made enough sense” for them to risk losing out of the players they were coveting.
We have agreed to terms on contracts with the following 10 rookie free agents ⬇️— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) May 1, 2023
Monti Ossenfort and Dave Sears used their connections to make four big trades, the first of which not only gave the Cardinals a brilliant young offensive tackle, it provided the Cardinals with an added 1st and 3rd round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.
What they accomplished early in Round 1 set the positive tempo for what has to be considered one of the more impressive drafts the Cardinals have had in years.
From this point forward, we may want to whisper Dave Sears’ name, because after what the Cardinals accomplished in this draft, Sears could be one of the hottest GM candidates on the 2024 market.
If Dave Sears cooks somewhere else as a GM, well, the good news is, Monti Ossenfort will have another eager and willing trade partner for future drafts.
Stay tuned this season as MODS will likely be cooking up some trades during the giant roster cutdown from 90 to 53 players (scheduled to occur on Tuesday August 29th). It is very likely that they will look to bolster the positions that they were not able to address in the draft.
The pattern is clear —- Monti Ossenfort and Dave Sears prefer younger players who have a fair degree of NFL experience, but are just now heading into their prime. This is why it would not be that much of a surprise if the Cardinals do not add many veterans during the post-draft free agency.
Moreover, the 2023 NFL Draft cooking may continue for the Cardinals on August 29th when they could have the chance to claim some players they wanted to draft —- where the Cardinals sit #3 on the waiver claim totem pole.
MODS —-Trading Cards —- like Topps.