DAN BICKLEY

Cards need one team to leave Indy hell-bent on acquiring No. 1 pick

Feb 27, 2019, 7:58 PM | Updated: Mar 6, 2019, 11:34 am
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)...
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

INDIANAPOLIS – Welcome to the Underwear Olympics. The Super Bowl of Misinformation. Let the games begin.

Start with the gasp that occurred moments after Steve Keim took the podium.

“Is Josh Rosen our quarterback?” the Cardinals’ general manager said. “He is, right now, for sure.”

Right now?

In the futile search for hard news, it’s easy to get lost at this event. Truth is taboo and toxic. Teams show up to gather information, not dispense it. They want real medical information and wide-open windows into a player’s soul.

But this time, the Cardinals have another mission at the NFL Scouting Combine:

They need one other team to leave Indianapolis hell-bent on acquiring the No. 1 overall pick, thus maximizing Arizona’s options and leverage on draft night.

That’s it.

That’s partly why Kliff Kingsbury didn’t back off previous comments regarding Kyler Murray, made when he wasn’t the new head coach in Arizona, when he said he’d select the Oklahoma quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick.

He didn’t have the pick or a NFL job back then. But he does now.

“The timing is obviously interesting, kind of the universe conspiring a bit,” Kingsbury said. “He’s a tremendous talent. I’ve felt that way since he was a high school player. I felt he was going to be one of the great ones, and he hasn’t disappointed.”

The same logic applies to Keim, who raised eyebrows and made headlines with his “for now” comments, the collateral damage marginalizing a quarterback he snagged in the first round of last year’s draft. Keim also said he’d have no problem drafting a diminutive quarterback in 2019, even with the No. 1 overall pick.

“I would’ve said years ago that I’m certainly against all those things,” Keim said. “But as you grow in this process, you open your eyes. You really have a better understanding that 10 years ago, there weren’t any comps that a 5-10 or 5-9ish quarterback could not only play at this level, but have success. That has changed.”

It should. Drew Brees has done just fine throwing passes while peering over a forest of linemen. Russell Wilson weighed only 204 pounds at his combine and hasn’t missed a game in seven years. Baker Mayfield has broken multiple barriers – a smaller quarterback who succeeded in the NFL despite playing in the Air Raid system while attending college. And if Murray is truly the quarterback long desired by Kingsbury, the Cardinals would be foolish not to consider his services.

In many ways, the offseason truly began on Wednesday. One talent evaluator said Murray is a more devastating runner than Michael Vick. Murray will be officially measured on Thursday, and if he’s at least 5-9ish and follows that up with a sizzling time in the 40-yard dash, there will be no stopping his ascension up the draft board.

Only this time, the Cardinals won’t benefit from the laws of supply and demand that have consistently and artificially inflated the value of incoming quarterbacks. It will be the changing face of the NFL, a league finally ready to embrace unconventional and undersized quarterbacks.

So here’s what we’ve learned after one day in Indianapolis:

The Cardinals plan to be very active in free agency. So active that Keim and Michael Bidwill have actually constructed an analytics department inside their organization to guide decisions, safeguarding against bad contracts and wasted money. Chances are, that money will be spread over numerous acquisitions and not a marquee player who comes with an exorbitant tag.

Meanwhile, sources say there is no chance the Cardinals pursue Antonio Brown in a trade, a player whose liabilities come too close to negating his staggering talent. We’ll see.

But this much is certain. The Cardinals aren’t in Indianapolis to make a decision about Kyler Murray. They have over 50 days before that verdict is due.

Instead, they’re here to play a game. To make it seem like they’re open to anything. To reinforce the notion hiring Kingsbury was so crazy that they just might draft the quarterback he wants the most. They are strongly endorsing the philosophy that size is no longer a deal-breaker in the NFL, at least not among impact quarterbacks.

“I don’t think so,” Kingsbury said. “I think that has been dispelled with Russell (Wilson) and the way he’s played and what he can do. Kyler played behind a NFL offensive line there at Oklahoma. So I don’t think that’s really a topic of conversation.”

To the contrary, it’s the only topic of conversation at the NFL Scouting Combine. If the league can evolve to the point where Murray is the No. 1 overall pick, it might inspire a nation of undersized quarterbacks the way Steve Nash and Steph Curry have inspired a country of vertically-challenged basketball players.

Either way, the Cardinals seem to be enjoying the attention. After a 3-13 season that featured Patrick Peterson’s trade demand and some of the worst football we’ve ever witnessed, they seem to have their swagger back.

After all, this is a game of deception. And unlike last year’s schedule, this is a battle they can win.

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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