All eyes on 2024: Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort talks NFL Draft philosophy

Feb 22, 2024, 8:21 AM | Updated: 9:30 am

Around this time last year, Arizona Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort was acclimating and implementing his structures months out from the NFL Draft. He was fresh off hiring head coach Jonathan Gannon, who coached the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl and wasn’t signed until mid-February.

So just more than a year after the hire, both the general manager and head coach are in place. Structures have settled in, making for a “refreshing” offseason of just doing the work, Ossenfort told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Thursday.

The 2024 offseason could make or break Ossenfort’s success in his turnover-heavy profession. The 2024 draft, where Arizona is flush with 11 picks, has been in the sights of the Cardinals and its fans after the 2023 edition, where stockpiling via trades set the team up.

“Ultimately, the draft has gotta be where we build and where this team forms the foundation of what we’re going to be moving forward,” Ossenfort said. “It’s the place we get the most swings at it. We get to pick and choose the players we want.

“We are definitely going to be active in free agency. What does that mean? I can’t spell that out for you right now, I don’t know what that means because we don’t completely control that. There’s a market and there’s players we think are going to be available right now that two weeks from now are not going to be available. Free agency is full of unknowns in that respect and, you know, there’s dangers in free agency.”

More than free agency, Arizona has a chance in the draft to take some big, honkin’ swings this year.

It didn’t hurt the Cardinals went 4-13 to give them the No. 4 pick first up.

But it did hurt that the Houston Texans, whose first-rounder Arizona acquired last offseason, made a surprising playoff run.

Still, owning the No. 27 pick and having six picks in the first 90 selections create a dream scenario for Ossenfort and staff, where moving up or down to find value is easily possible.

Do the Cardinals like WRs Marvin Harrison Jr. or others at the NFL Draft’s No. 4 pick?

Understanding the roster talent that gave the team a 4-13 record last season, the Cardinals general manager doesn’t believe he’s in a spot to be picky by targeting positions of need.

“I don’t think we’re in like a position right now to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to target this, target that,'” Ossenfort said. “We’re going to go look at talented players that fit what we’re trying to do both culturally and also on the field. Our list of needs is good players that fit us.”

Ossenfort sidestepped the question when asked about the trio of potential top-10 receivers in Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., Washington’s Rome Odunze and LSU’s Malik Nabers.

He left the door very wide open in terms of whether receivers, other positions or trades will be in the Cardinals’ sights with their first pick.

“I think all three of those are very talented players,” the GM said. “We look at every position in the draft and we’re in the middle of that process right now. We’ll get more time to spend with those guys (at the combine and through interviews).

“What we’re going to do, we’re going to evaluate the entirety of the draft and we’re going to make the best decision when it comes to that pick. I think we showed last year, our propensity is to when that phone rings, we’re going to listen. We’re going to have the opportunity to sit there and pick who we deem worthy of the fourth pick — and if the phone rings and somebody’s got an offer for us to move up, move back, those are all things we’re going to consider.”

What is Ossenfort’s draft philosophy?

Ossenfort’s predecessor, Steve Keim, was known for taking risks. He didn’t fear going after small-school players, for better or worse.

He also had a track record of taking players who shined in non-football combine events.

Ossenfort was asked if he has any foundational beliefs that guide his staff in making decisions.

“We always talk about it … any player evaluation that we’re trying to do, it’s a pie,” Ossenfort said. “There’s a bunch of different things that go into each piece of that pie. I’d say the vast majority of that is always going to go back to the game tape. Ultimately, it’s going to go back to, ‘Hey, what does this guy do when he’s actually playing football?'”

The general manager said Arizona as a staff has completed about 2/3 of those pies, with the combine next week filling in gaps with medical evaluations, player interviews and the physical testing and measurements taken.

Then, most of April for the Cardinals is about taking a step back and looking at the pie as a whole for when the 2024 NFL Draft begins on April 25.

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