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Rosen and Kirk could form long-term solution for Cardinals

(AP photos)

TEMPE, Ariz. — It’s no secret what the Arizona Cardinals are doing on offense. Well, maybe it is in the moment, when the team is running curious plays late in games and averaging a league-worst 9.2 points per contest.

But they have a plan for the big picture, at least.

Josh Rosen is the key to that plan, of course. His arrival as the team’s starting quarterback before the calendar even hit October has given Arizona fans something to get excited about, despite the fact the Cardinals are the NFL’s only winless team.

It’s not just Rosen though. For the first time since 2012, the organization drafted a wide receiver before the third round. And Christian Kirk is already showing some signs that he was worth it. The 47th overall pick erupted for 90 yards on seven catches in Week 3 against the Bears and currently leads the team with 16 receptions for 149 yards.

He’s even ahead of Larry Fitzgerald right now — albeit just barely. Fitzgerald has 15 catches for 141 yards, so it’s not like either guy is rewriting the record books this season. In fact, they’re both on pace for roughly 600-yard campaigns.

That would go down as the worst statistical effort in Fitzgerald’s 15-year career. But it’s not really his fault.

The passing game was nonexistent for much of the first three weeks, though there’s a renewed sense of optimism that it can start to turn around. The simple idea that Kirk is emerging even as a second option to Fitzgerald this early is big.

Rosen joked after the loss to the Seahawks that he was going to work on convincing Fitzgerald to stay another year when this one ends. Whether that happens or not, the Cardinals will eventually need someone to take over as the main option in the passing game. Even if Kirk doesn’t become a traditional No. 1 receiver, he’s showing flashes of upside just four games into his pro career. He’s already building a rapport with his new quarterback.

“I’ve known him for a really long time,” said Rosen, who in high school hoped to play with Kirk at UCLA. “I think we’re building that connection. And like anything, it just comes with repetitions. I think with every receiver, every position, we’re getting there. Slowly but surely, take a step every week and hopefully get our first win next week. With Christian, in particular, he’s a really good buddy. We live in the same building, and hopefully we’ll be together for a long time.”

That’s good news for Arizona fans, and it’s good news for Kirk, because it’s looking more and more like having chemistry with Rosen is integral to being involved in the Cardinals’ offense for the foreseeable future. Maybe even the next decade, if everything goes according to plan.

This is all a small sample size right now. It’s extremely early in the process. But simply watching the last five quarters of football reveals how often Rosen looks Kirk’s way. He targeted him five times against Seattle, and even threw at him three times in the two drives he saw at the end of the Chicago game.

Ironically, one of the few instances when he didn’t see him was the one time Kirk was wide open in the end zone against the Seahawks. That’s something Rosen definitely hasn’t forgotten.

“I mean, I could’ve hit Christian in the back of the end zone,” Rosen said again on Wednesday when asked if there were things he wished he would’ve done better in his first start. “Yeah, so, things like that. Absolutely.”

That’s one play though. While it’s a play that Rosen can’t miss when he becomes more established in this league, it was the most obvious mistake of his first NFL start. At this point, the development of the future franchise quarterback probably means more than a win in September when the Cardinals were already 0-3 anyway.

Part of that development includes surrounding Rosen with weapons. That’s where Kirk comes in.

The duo could be making plays in the desert for many years, and they could enhance Steve Keim’s draft record in the process.

Actually, the 2018 class in general has a chance to do that, while potentially rejuvenating the offense moving forward.

“Also, throw Mason [Cole] in there as well,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks reminded everyone of his rookie center. “When you look at those three guys and what we’re doing — you can add Chase [Edmonds] in there also — I thought we did a tremendous job in hitting in the draft this year and building what we consider to be the future on offense. And those guys right here are learning, they’re learning early, and they’re going to continue to get the reps and get better.”

That’s what matters most now for Arizona.

Everybody wants to win, but struggling in the standings is a lot more palatable when some of the building blocks are already in place — especially at quarterback. Rather than falling into the unenviable trap of almost wanting to lose with the hope of being able to draft the signal caller of the future in 2019, the Cardinals already have their guy. They can let him learn on the job now and draft the best player available at whatever slot they fall to next April.

If they’ve found their quarterback a consistent target to throw to as well, that would make this whole process go much smoother.

Phillips Law Group


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