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Morgan: Cardinals didn’t see their QB of future among Day-2 options

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer and Cal quarterback Davis Webb (AP Photos)

TEMPE, Ariz. — There is nuance in almost every NFL Draft decision. The subtleties can get lost in the simplified evaluations that litter the Internet and airwaves, but they were critical components in the Cardinals’ Day 2 moves.

When word spread that the Cardinals were looking to move into the front of the second round on Friday, there was speculation that Arizona was eyeing a quarterback; perhaps DeShone Kizer, Davis Webb or Nathan Peterman.

Instead, the Cardinals selected University of Washington safety Budda Baker, surrendering their fourth and sixth-round picks this year and their fourth-round pick next year (while receiving an additional seventh-round pick this year) to move up.

The simple reason? Baker, who can also play cornerback in sub-packages, fills a more immediate need (even though NFL teams don’t draft for need) than a quarterback would have, and the Cardinals thought he was a better player.

The Cardinals lost Tony Jefferson in free agency, one season after losing safety Rashad Johnson. No matter how much leadership he brings, free-agent signing Antoine Bethea is about to turn 33 and the Cardinals play as many as four safeties at times in their various packages, using three about 79 percent of the time.

“Wherever he played, whether it was in the slot as a nickel or whether it was a deep path as a junior, we went back and watched that tape and the way he played off the hash and his eyes and his ability to anticipate things, he’s just a good football player.” GM Steve Keim said of Baker. “People talk about him being a little smaller, but starting three years he missed one football game so the durability factor is not an issue.”

While the Cardinals were shoring up their defense, Kizer went 16 picks later to Cleveland, Webb went in the third round at No. 87, and after trading down, Arizona chose Chad Williams with their third-round pick to bring in a big, physical receiver to replace Michael Floyd.

It all makes sense… unless quarterback becomes a need sooner than expected.

“I’m not saying this is Carson Palmer’s last year, but with him contemplating retirement after last season, you know it’s in his mind,” former Cardinals QB and current NFL analyst Kurt Warner said. “You have to go that route and look for the next guy and try to find him as soon as possible.”

The Cardinals did not on Day 2, which is generally your last chance to find that guy. They reasoned that they have a QB right now who can lead them, but what if that assumption comes back to bite them?

“Would you love to find one?” Keim asked, rhetorically. “Absolutely, but at the same time, as I said, you can’t force a pick and you can’t leave better players on the board and that’s what we would have done if we didn’t take the approach that we did.”

In the weeks leading up to the NFL’s annual talent renewal, coach Bruce Arians labeled the Cardinals the perfect environment for grooming a young QB. Arizona has Arians, who has worked with Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. The Cardinals have Tom Moore and his five-plus decades of experience. They have QBs coach Byron Leftwich. They have Palmer (and backup Drew Stanton), who admitted he’d love to mentor the next QB.

“I’ve been in that mentor role for a decade now, really,” Palmer said. “Not to float my own boat, but I think I’m pretty good at it. I know I’ve had many great mentors and role models and guys to look up to; guys I’ve learned a lot from so I know how to approach being that guy and I’ve been doing it for a long time.”

You can understand the Cardinals’ rationale, especially after three quarterbacks went among the first 12 picks in Thursday’s first round, ostensibly removing the top three talents that may have interested them. It never makes sense to reach for a guy you don’t believe is worth the pick, but the situation could turn more dire next season if Palmer walks away, or his play drops off dramatically.

Maybe there is another veteran in the Warner, Palmer vein that the Cardinals feel they can acquire through a trade, but what if they don’t and they have to reach in next year’s draft? What if they have to admit they are drafting for need at the game’s most important position?

Keim, Arians and the brain trust surely weighed these possibilities, but in the immediate gratification world of the NFL, this was a gamble they felt was worth taking — in an event defined by gambling.

“We’ll continue to build this roster the right way,” Keim said. “It would be a disservice to the organization and to everybody that works here if we would press and do something that was out of the norm, or to panic when all along the way the last four years, for the most part, I think we have made the right decisions.”

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