DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Cardinals’ QB charade ending or just beginning?

Sep 6, 2023, 3:45 PM

Monti Ossenfort at training camp...

Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort chats during training camp on Friday, July 28, 2023, in Glendale. (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

The Cardinals had a security breach on Wednesday. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Cardinals are starting Josh Dobbs in Week 1. Which means someone gave away their innermost secrets, leaking what Jonathan Gannon called a competitive advantage in Week 1 against the Commanders.

Mercifully, the shell game and charades are over.

There was no competitive advantage in forcing an opponent to guess between Dobbs and Clayton Tune. That’s like choosing between flour and corn tortillas. The Commanders could watch all of the tape on Dobbs and Tune in less time than it takes a rideshare to deliver your Pad Thai. The whole thing was just a smokescreen to make sure Dobbs had enough time to learn everyone’s name and effectively spit out plays and verbiage in the huddle.

But the whole episode underscores a very important point in Arizona: the quarterback position is up in the air, for this season and beyond.

We all saw Tune in the preseason. He has the requisite poise and arm strength. He committed a terrible mental error by not spotting a blindside blitzer who sacked him and took away his football. Tune immediately rebounded with one of the most audacious throws you’ll see in the preseason. The kid has significant promise. And it would be an injustice to ask him to start in Week 1, even though three other rookie head coaches are doing the same with their rookie quarterbacks (Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson).

Yet the aggressive pursuit of Dobbs seems more than an insurance policy. The general manager and the offensive coordinator have previous experience with Dobbs, and both clearly believe in his brain and his skillset. They have apparently given him the starting job without the benefit of one training camp or preseason snap, and that will bring a surreal feel to Sunday’s game against Washington.

A wide swath of Cardinals fans will turn on the television Sunday morning with no memory, reference point or opinion of their starting quarterback. It will feel like the first time because it is the first time for many casual football followers in Arizona. The first impression is live from the battle site.

The impending return of Kyler Murray is also the subject of much debate. Some outsiders believe the Cardinals will not allow Murray to take the field for fear of wasting another penny on their polarizing quarterback. But that seems nonsensical, especially if you believe that the previous regime underserved their franchise quarterback. Gannon has publicly said he expects Murray to play at some point, and he speaks of Murray in the most glowing of terms.

The quicker Murray returns, the more margin for error he claims. But what if Murray’s recovery lingers while Dobbs becomes one of the breakout surprises of the season? Laugh now, but the NFL is full of success stories like him.

Finally, Caleb Williams. The USC quarterback is more than just a great prospect. He’s considered a generational talent. He is the consolation prize for the worst team in the NFL in 2023, and the Cardinals are certainly in the running. Except his father just put the NFL on notice, saying his son might stay in school to avoid saddling his career to a dysfunctional franchise. He even referenced USC head coach Lincoln Riley, who told him how the Cardinals had stunted the growth of Murray.

Think about those implications, and how Caleb Williams might represent the next big litmus test for the organization and its wobbly reputation across the NFL.

Here’s hoping the 2023 season will prove three things: that the Cardinals have flushed the dysfunction; they already have their franchise quarterback in uniform; and they can spend the upcoming season competing for more than draft picks and consolation prizes.

Dan Bickley

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