Arizona Cardinals draft grade: ‘G’ for godsend
Bad luck can make a sports town crazy. Fans begin to believe they are persecuted, victims of conspiracy, suppressed by dark forces that can never be defeated.
Our relentless misfortune may have ended at the 2018 NFL draft, where the Cardinals earned the highest grade possible: a ‘G.’
Our NFL franchise snagged an impact quarterback and a homegrown wide receiver in the first two rounds. The first pick delivered the most interesting player in college football. The second netted the first Valley product selected by the Cardinals who grew up loving the Cardinals, a significant rite of passage for any professional franchise.
Everything that followed was a blur, incapable of spoiling the mood.
The biggest winner was general manager Steve Keim, who was signed to a four-year extension before the draft, and now has five years remaining on his contract. He’s earned that kind of security, accruing 49 wins in his first five seasons as the team’s aggressive, admired architect. But his popularity was waning, and eventually with it, his power and authority.
After all, he works for Michael Bidwill, who is hard-charging and very demanding. He once requested to see Ken Whisenhunt’s draft board after Russell Wilson became a star in Seattle, wondering how the former Cardinals’ head coach missed on a player like him. Bidwill invests heavily in winning, and expects a lot in return. As he should.
Either way, this draft changes all of that. Maybe it all turned when the Browns took Denzel Ward at No. 4, delaying the run on quarterbacks. Or when the 49ers won a coin flip with the Raiders, slotting the teams at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively, a key moment in the acquisition of Rosen. But if you heard Keim’s phone call with Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie, you listened to a robbery in progress. He sold it perfectly, closing the deal quickly, while reassuring and congratulating an old friend.
On a related note, there are reports out of Oakland that Jon Gruden will soon overhaul the personnel department following the draft, assuming full control.
In Arizona, it’s time to buckle up. Rosen is going to be a handful. He’ll offer opinions and generate headlines. He’s been gifted a welcome that Sam Bradford never received. Their interaction will be fascinating.
If Bradford stays healthy, the kid is going to have to wait a long time. He’ll get itchy. Their unspoken competition will put everyone on edge, and make everyone better. And I’ll say it again:
Mike McCoy, the Cardinals’ new offensive coordinator, will be the most impactful assistant coach hired in the 2018 offseason. He’s worked with Peyton Manning, a control freak who gave no quarter in the quarterback room. He steered Tim Tebow into a playoff-winning quarterback, something that Bradford has never done. He currently commands an intriguing set of quarterbacks: Bradford, Rosen and Mike Glennon.
How long until it gets real?
Rosen is too big of a personality to sit idly for too long. He’s amended his “Nine mistakes” decree to three, targeting only the teams that chose other quarterbacks ahead of him. But there are also stories of Rosen as a gifted young tennis player, absurdly ruthless, shocking those in attendance with his need to destroy the opponent.
After Rosen was drafted, the rookie asked Keim to forward the phone number of every subsequent pick that followed in the NFL draft. When Keim plucked Christian Kirk — a former Saguaro High School star who eluded ASU but not the Cardinals — the exchanged went like this:
Keim: “Say hello to your new teammate.”
Rosen: “Hell yeah.”
In the span of 48 hours, Keim has resuscitated his image, once again a rock star GM. Under immense pressure, he has given each of his rookie head coaches a franchise quarterback for the future. He stole Carson Palmer from the Raiders after Bruce Arians took over in 2013, when Keim didn’t like the idea of Drew Stanton as full-time starter. He just gave the Steve Wilks Era a jolt of optimism, countering all those negative predictions that accompanied the team’s schedule.
Rosen will be a star if he stays healthy. Bradford will be hard to unseat if he stays healthy. Glennon has become an afterthought, and the competitive drama is going to be off the charts.
The Cardinals might not be a playoff team in 2018. But this draft has framed their future, and they will sell all of their tickets once again. And with a guy like Rosen in the mix, a good seat at training camp might actually become a hot commodity.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.