Moments after the Arizona Cardinals traded their third- and fifth-round picks to Oakland to move up five spots to draft Josh Rosen in last year’s NFL draft, general manager Steve Keim called Rosen to deliver the news.
“The future is all about you, my man,” Keim told Rosen in a video that could soon be rendered deliriously awkward. After a disastrous season with a historically putrid offense, the Cardinals are widely believed to be interested in taking Kyler Murray with the no. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft—just 11 months after the team traded up for Rosen. Where Rosen could end up next is the most interesting subplot leading into this month’s draft.
The rumors started with what looked like a coincidence: A video emerged of then–Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury saying ahead of a game against Oklahoma in November that he would take Sooners quarterback Murray if he were in position to pick first in the NFL draft. Flash-forward a few months, and Kingsbury was named the head coach of the Cardinals, who have the no. 1 overall pick. When Murray hired the same agent that represents Kingsbury, suddenly there was legitimate fuel for the rumor mill. Asked at the combine about this saga, Keim said Rosen is the team’s quarterback “right now, for sure,” which was akin to pouring gasoline onto the flames considering he knew how much scrutiny would be placed on his words. Given the Cardinals’ refusal to quell this rumor, either Arizona saw the Kingsbury video as a prime opportunity to sow misinformation into draft season to try to inflate the trade value of the no. 1 overall pick, or the team really is about to redirect Rosen and take Murray.
It’s hard to blame the Cardinals for wanting another fresh start. The Cardinals offense finished last in counting numbers (points, first downs, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards), and finished last in ratio numbers (yards per play, net yards per pass attempt, and yards per carry). Not only did they finish as the least efficient offense by DVOA last season, but they were the third-least efficient offense in the history of the DVOA statistic, which goes back to 1986 and accounts for era. The only offenses less efficient than Arizona in 2018 were the 1992 Seahawks and the 2002 Texans, the latter of whom was in its first year as an expansion franchise.
The Cardinals were historically bad, but that doesn’t mean Rosen is a bust. Arizona trotted out the least talented offense in football last year, and they may have had the worst coaching, too. Their offensive line was graded dead last in pass blocking by Pro Football Focus, which studies game tape, and ranked 26th in pass blocking by Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, which uses #math. Subsequently, Rosen was one of three quarterbacks (behind Deshaun Watson and Josh Allen) pressured on more than 40 percent of his dropbacks, according to PFF’s numbers. The offensive game plan was so bad that first-year head coach Steve Wilks fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy less than halfway into the season. Whatever you think of Rosen’s NFL abilities, it would be hard to find a worse situation for him to display them in than the 2018 Cardinals offense. Thus, Rosen’s next destination if he is exiled from the desert could help redeem him. The question is: Which team could make a move for him?
The Team That Makes Sense but Won’t Do It: The New York Giants
The Cardinals Would Want: Giants no. 17 overall pick (from Cleveland)
The Giants Would Give: Third- and fourth-rounders
Fox Sports draft analyst Joel Klatt said on Undisputed that the Giants, Patriots, and Chargers were “very interested” in Rosen and that one of those teams had already offered a second-rounder. (He also said this staring into Skip Bayless’s eyeholes, and the info may have come from Rosen’s camp, so take it with a Pete Davidson–sized salt grain.) Based on everything New York general manager Dave Gettleman has said and done, the Giants are the team least likely to have offered that pick. Keim would certainly have his eyes on the no. 17 overall pick the Giants got in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade, but Gettleman is unlikely to swap a first-rounder for Rosen. The Giants have acknowledged they need to replace Eli Manning, but have not acknowledged they need to do so this year. Gettleman had the opportunity to draft Rosen or another quarterback at no. 2 last year but opted for running back Saquon Barkley instead. If the team didn’t see Rosen as a franchise QB then, they probably don’t see him as one now, and if they don’t see him as one now, the team probably won’t even part with its second-rounder (no. 37 overall). The Giants don’t have their third-round pick after using it in the supplemental draft last year, but they acquired Cleveland’s in the Beckham trade.
From Rosen’s perspective, the Giants would be a big upgrade. Their offensive line is fine, which is a big upgrade over Arizona’s porous unit, and New York’s skill players are better than Arizona’s. But a trade for Rosen would be quite the roundabout after last year, when the team could have tried to take the Jets trade package of the no. 6 pick and three second-rounders for the no. 2 overall pick, which ultimately went to Indianapolis for the third overall pick.
The Team That Makes the Most Sense: L.A. Chargers
The Cardinals Would Want: L.A.’s first-rounder (no. 28 overall)
The Chargers Would Give: L.A.’s second-rounder (no. 60 overall)
Philip Rivers is playing well enough that parting with the team’s first-rounder to push Rivers out the door may not make sense considering the team will likely contend in 2019. But Rivers is 37 and entering the last year of his contract, so sending a late second-rounder to acquire Rosen would be a fantastic haul. It would also be the best possible landing spot for Rosen, who starred at UCLA for three seasons and grew up a stone’s throw from where the Chargers play in Carson, California. The Chargers roster is worlds ahead of Arizona’s. Every single spot on L.A.’s offense other than running back would be a significant upgrade, and while L.A. doesn’t have a Sean McVay schemer on staff, it would also be his best chance at a Jared Goff–like resurgence.
Come On, Do Something: Miami Dolphins
The Cardinals Would Want: No. 13 overall
The Dolphins Would Give: No. 48 overall
Miami punted the Ryan Tannehill era to Nashville earlier this month, and you’d figure the team would be willing to toss a second-rounder to take a flyer on Rosen. He’s a better prospect than any the Dolphins would likely pick up at no. 13 overall, and it’s not like they have a lot going on. (No offense, Ryan Fitzpatrick.) But Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has preached patience—perhaps too much patience—so the Dolphins seem willing to wait for a better quality quarterback in 2020 than splurge for Rosen this go-around. Head coach Brian Flores is a Belichick disciple, and it would be surprising if his first move was to part with a second-round pick.
The Sleeper: Washington
The Cardinals Would Want: Washington’s first-rounder (no. 15 overall)
Washington Would Give: ???
Don’t be fooled by the Case Keenum trade. It cost Washington essentially nothing (the team swapped a future seventh-rounder for a future sixth-rounder, which is the NFL’s version of telling the cashier “you can keep the pennies”). They’re paying him $3.5 million in 2019, which is the last year of his deal. Keenum isn’t even a lock to start over unpasteurized milk man Colt McCoy in 2019. Even if Alex Smith returns in 2020, which is not a guarantee, he’ll be 36 and will need to play better than he was before he broke his leg last season to be worth the money on his contract. That’s all a long way of saying that Washington has three quarterbacks on its team but none that is a lock to be part of their long-term plan. Rosen has the two attributes Washington needs: He’s young enough to inspire hope and cheap enough to fit under their salary cap until the team can get out of Smith’s contract in 2021. He’s not perfect, but beggars can’t be choosers, and Washington could be desperate. Their 2-through-53-man roster might be ready to win the NFC East in 2019, but without a steadier option at quarterback, it’s hard to project them to do so. It’s unlikely Washington parts with a first- or second-rounder for Rosen, but it could save their medium-term plans.
The “Oh Snap” Team: New England Patriots
The Cardinals Would Want: [Jedi-mind-tricked into doing whatever Belichick commands]
The Patriots Would Give: Four seventh-rounders
Yes, I know this probably won’t happen. But if it did, everyone’s immediate reaction after seeing the push notification would be oh snap. The Patriots have 12 picks in this year’s draft, the most of any team, and have six picks in the top 101. Usually the Patriots get picks for a backup quarterback, not the other way around, but if they see a value with Rosen, they may pounce on the chance to have a backup quarterback in his 20s on the roster (the only other QBs they have are 33-year-old Brian Hoyer and 24-year-old seventh-rounder Danny Etling). They’re not afraid to spend a high pick on a player, especially if the team is confident they can flip them for a better pick a season later, which is exactly what the team did with Brandin Cooks. New England dealing for Rosen doesn’t necessarily mean he would be Tom Brady’s heir. It means the Patriots may think they could do a better job trading him.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the Giants don’t have any third-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft.