DAN BICKLEY

Call it robbery: Cardinals hit home run with trade, pick of QB Josh Rosen

Apr 26, 2018, 9:20 PM | Updated: Apr 27, 2018, 11:32 am
UCLA's Josh Rosen, right, gestures next to commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the A...
UCLA's Josh Rosen, right, gestures next to commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Arizona Cardinals during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

In the NFL, the right quarterback rarely comes at a bargain price.

For the second time in five years, Cardinals have pulled off an impossible heist. An 8-8 team entered the draft with the 15th pick yet somehow snagged former UCLA star Josh Rosen in the first round, sacrificing very little in return.

We should all credit general manager Steve Keim for hitting a home run at a pivotal moment in franchise history. Except that would be an understatement.

He hit a grand slam. With the bases empty.

“When you watch him on film, he was the most pure passer in the draft coming out this year,” Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.  “The guy, he’s a true leader. When you see him at the (NFL) Combine, we had him in the room, (and) the guy took control. I just love the way he demands and commands the room.”

Rosen is a gifted quarterback with mammoth intelligence. His intellectual energy has been too often framed as liability, troubling NFL types who prefer subservience and young players who wouldn’t dare question authority.

That says more about the narrow-minded culture of NFL coaches than it does about the Cardinals’ newest quarterback.

And at a position where brain cells make all the difference, Rosen’s greatest asset can’t be taught or overstated.

In recent weeks, Rosen has spent considerable time challenging lazy perceptions about his family’s affluence, his commitment to football, his love for the game and those who believe that he’s Jay Cutler 2.0. To the contrary, most of his red flags are cause for celebration. And nothing reflects the brilliance of the Cardinals’ first-round pick more than this:

“I’m the best quarterback in the draft,” Rosen told ESPN before the draft. “A lot of guys are flashier, but I think I’m the most efficient, monotonously consistent QB in the draft. (Aaron) Rodgers has some flair, but if you watch Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees … there’s nothing explosive or Johnny Manziel-like. It’s just quarterbacking.”

In other words, if you’re smart enough to read complex defenses, make the right decisions under pressure and deliver the football to the proper receiver, the most arduous profession in professional sports isn’t so overwhelming. Rosen is one of those rare guys who can make it look easy because of what’s between his ears, just like Kurt Warner.

Start with the premise that NFL quarterbacks are forced to live inside a paradox, accepting a strange duality. They must be great leaders and great followers, inspiring their teammates while appeasing and serving their coaches. But those who intellectually challenge their superiors are the ones who cultivate the most loyalty from the men who share a huddle. Their credibility transcends the norm because nothing they say or do is without explanation or full conviction.

Consider this gem from Rosen in 2016:

“The NFL should be more worried about pensions than CTE,” Rosen once said. “In the NFL, when you have guys run into each other head-on, full speed, (stuff) is going to happen. But at least they’re getting paid millions of dollars.

“In college, they’ve been running head-to-head into each other for what, an education? You see the irony? That’s what you’re supposed to be using your head for, an education.”

Rosen will soon become one of the most interesting, quotable athletes in the Valley. He will learn fast, absorbing schemes and strategy at a pace that will shame most rookies selected in 2018. He will be the Cardinals’ second-best quarterback by Thanksgiving. He represents the team’s best draft-day gift since Dennis Green ran to the podium to select Matt Leinart 12 years ago.

While he’s been saying all the right things lately, Rosen will have to prove his commitment on the sidelines, the film room and the practice field. But I trust him far more than Leinart, the former USC quarterback who loved celebrity more than football.

And so, with one bold stroke, Keim has checked many boxes. He finally drafted his franchise quarterback. All that time spent waiting and kicking a can down the road turned out to be a blessing in disguise, producing a player and a moment that has electrified the fan base. Suddenly, all those ominous predictions attached to the Cardinals in 2018 don’t seem to matter much, not when the future trumps the present.

Keim has worked this magic before. Shortly after taking the job in 2013, he rejected the handpicked quarterback of Bruce Arians, who imported Drew Stanton as his designated starter. He followed up by fleecing the Raiders for Carson Palmer, who spearheaded one of the most entertaining eras in team history.

For an encore, he robbed the Raiders once again. As Rosen inexplicably dropped in value, the Cardinals seized the moment. They atoned for lessons learned in 2017, when two teams jumped ahead of Arizona to select Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. They struck a deal for Rosen for pocket change and pennies on the dollar, giving up their own first-round pick, along with third- and fifth-round selections (the 79th and 152nd picks overall). They relinquished assets that don’t matter, that could never approach the upside of their new quarterback.

Most GMs forced into a position of weakness end up taking wild gambles. They eventually buy time with their quarterback of choosing, painfully aware that ensuing failure could spell the end of their careers.

It’s a different story in Arizona. No matter what Rosen accomplishes as a NFL quarterback, the Cardinals have already won this deal and this draft.

Maybe even a Super Bowl in the near future.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com.  Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Call it robbery: Cardinals hit home run with trade, pick of QB Josh Rosen