Rosen To Murray: How Cardinals Got Here Amidst Crazy Offseason

Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In an offseason filled with Antonio Brown drama, Odell Beckham Jr. being traded and one of the most popular owners in the league in Robert Kraft being charged in a prostitution investigation, somehow all those stories have taken a back seat to the biggest headline of the year: the Arizona Cardinals reported interested in Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray.

The rumors began as just that - completely unfounded reaction to a video of new Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury when he was the head coach of Texas Tech, singing Murray’s praises and remarking that if he had the first pick in the NFL Draft, he’d take the diminutive Sooners’ signal caller. That video, from October 2018, obviously occurred before Kingsbury had any clue he would be an NFL head coach, let alone one with the first overall pick.

That didn’t matter. Social media snubbed the obvious logical flaws and jumped to a conclusion: Kingsbury wanted Murray at no. 1 and would get him, regardless of his status as a first year head coach of a franchise with a heavily-involved owner, an established general manager and a first round quarterback the team had traded up to acquire the year before in Josh Rosen.

At his press conference on February 12th, Kingsbury shot down any speculation that the organization may be ready to risk it all for Murray at no. 1.

“Josh is our guy,” Kingsbury said. “Our feelings toward Josh haven’t waned or changed at all.”

The Arizona Cardinals official Twitter even got involved, tweeting this and this to affirm the organization's support of Rosen.

Momentarily, that seemed to calm the speculation, but GM Steve Keim’s podium session at the NFL Combine on Wednesday, February 27th, 15 days later, changed all of that.

“Is Josh Rosen our quarterback? He is right now.”

Whew. Finally, an actual, tangible connection between the speculation of Arizona’s disinterest in their current franchise quarterback and potentially drafting Murray. And social media once again ran with it.

This time, the speculation was fair. Keim had answered a question in a leading fashion when he easily could have avoided doing so. The question was, why? 

Per league sources, at first the Cardinals motivation was to drive up the price for no. 1 and trade back. Pre-free agency, that obviously made a ton of sense. The Jaguars, Dolphins, Redskins and even Broncos pre-Flacco trade were all in need of a quarterback and the Cardinals were in desperate need of more picks to restore a depleted roster. 

By playing up interest in Murray, Arizona was hopeful a trade partner would come forward that would allow them to land a king’s ransom and move back just a handful of spots in the draft. With the Jaguars landing Nick Foles, Denver trading for Joe Flacco and the Giants throwing their weight behind Eli Manning, the Cardinals’ efforts have not been successful so far. But this is why their interest in Murray was so played up at the Combine, even to the point where a few teams laughed it off as an obvious smokescreen. 

Well, yes and no.

In Arizona’s mind, Murray has always been an exciting prospect. That’s obvious hearing Kingsbury talk about Murray. He likes him (he also likes Rosen a lot, by the way). Owner Michael Bidwill likes him a lot, and especially likes the idea that Murray's exhilarating style of play will put fans back in the seats, something that was an issue last year as a losing campaign endured. At no. 1 overall, the Cardinals primary motivation was to trade back in the draft, but if that didn’t work out, there was no harm in the truth that they liked Murray getting out anyway. So nothing to lose by ramping up the rumors and seeing what happened.

Still, when Kingsbury affirmed their belief in Rosen on February 12th, he wasn’t lying. The Cardinals were all in on Rosen at that time, per multiple league sources. Over time however, a few things changed. Rosen is of course not required to be at the facility this offseason, but Carson Palmer basically lived there, and Rosen hasn’t been there at all. He has yet to meet Kingsbury in person, although the two have spoken on the phone a few times. 

Rosen’s interests outside of football are no secret (that has included finishing his degree this winter), and from everything we can glean he hasn’t shirked any of his responsibilities as a quarterback in pursuit of those. Still, the Cardinals were spoiled by Palmer’s dedication to basically live at the facility in the offseason, and Rosen is unlikely to ever operate that way.

Behind all of this is the worst-kept secret in media: Rosen was never fired up about moving to and living in Arizona, from the moment he was drafted until now. From what we’ve heard, we don’t believe those feelings have manifested themselves in his attitude or work ethic in season - Kingsbury praised his toughness and resiliency in the face of adversity on the field many times in his Combine presser - but now that the season is over, Rosen’s attention has turned to a bevy of offseason activities that don’t necessarily incorporate copious amounts of football into his routine.

Then, of course, there is the mysterious deletion of all the Cardinals photos from Rosen’s instagram. According to league sources, Rosen called the Cardinals as soon as it happened (before it went public) to let them know that his IG had been hacked and all of his photos from the last two years except for his most recent two posts had been deleted. Obviously, this included all of his Cardinals photos. 

Still, the perception is out there that Rosen did this himself as a form of protest, despite the fact his IG was hacked days before Keim ever said a word at the Combine. In fact, when Rosen’s IG was wiped, the last bit of information the public had related to the Cardinals and Kyler Murray was Kingsbury saying “Josh is our guy” a few weeks prior.

There would be seemingly no motivation for Rosen to have deleted his Cardinals photos, and even less for him to call the organization and let them know he’d been hacked right after having done so. Logic can be elusive in these situations however, where perception and being “the face of the franchise” are everything to a team.

Still, one motivation has trumped all. There is increasing pressure from ownership in Arizona to make a move that will be perceived as a splash, even to the point of rendering null their first round franchise quarterback from a year ago. It is no secret that Bidwill has always been a very hands-on owner, and this situation has brought that into focus more than ever before. It's not fair to say Arizona's decision-makers are divided on the prospect of drafting Murray, but Bidwill has been a late-driving force behind their interest in the Oklahoma quarterback. Still, nothing has been set in stone just yet, so here we are, waiting for a trade that seems to be becoming more inevitable by the day.

Fox Sports' Joel Klatt reported on Undisputed that “There are three teams I have heard are interested in Josh Rosen: New England, the L.A. Chargers and the Giants. One of those have already offered a second round pick”. Ben Allbright first reported the Chargers interest weeks ago on Twitter, calling them a “likely destination if Rosen were to be moved”. He also reported this evening that "it's time to move Kyler Murray to ARI at #1 from pencil to pen".

We're assuming (not a report, an educated guess) the Chargers were most likely the team to offer a second given their fairly loaded roster and the fact that their second isn’t a very high pick. But regardless of what is offered at this point, it’s important to remember one thing: Josh Rosen isn’t officially on the trade block, at least not right now. Washington head coach Jay Gruden said as much at his presser a few days ago, telling the media there is nothing to talk about with Rosen because he’s not available.

Of course, an enticing offer could change that in the blink of an eye, and the Cardinals are obviously answering the phone, despite the fact that Rosen isn’t officially available. Teams aren’t going to come in bidding high, which suggests the process could take awhile to play out if the Cardinals are looking for first round compensation. If their stance on getting a one back in a trade is resolute, there is a chance Rosen isn’t going to be moved at all.

With league meetings taking place this week and offseason programs set to kick off on April 1 for teams with new head coaches, the clock is ticking on a potential Rosen deal that would make drafting Murray make sense. Any team that acquires him would want him in-house by the start of their offseason workouts more than likely, and there is little reason for the Cardinals to delay. At this point, they should know if they feel passionately enough about Murray to pull the trigger at no. 1.

There is just one question Arizona has to ask: are they in love enough with Kyler Murray to be willing to take the big leap of faith to put Rosen on the block and hope they get some high offers? Once they make that move, there will be no going back with the former UCLA signal caller. He’ll be gone with the best offer they get, even if it isn’t ideal. 

From the moment the Arizona Cardinals secured the no. 1 overall pick until a certain video of Kliff Kingsbury emerged, everyone on the planet, including those within the organization, assumed the team was going to choose between Ohio State edge defender Nick Bosa or Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams with the first pick in the draft. Per league sources, Murray wasn’t even on the front office’s radar as a legit option at no. 1 when the video first went viral and social media went nuts. Everything with Murray has been catch-up from that point on given his late decision to play football, which has helped pique at least some level of interest from Arizona, along with the Rosen and ownership-related reasons mentioned above.

Are we really about to see a 5-foot-10, one-year starter at quarterback, who wasn't even considered an actual NFL prospect a few months ago, be the no. 1 overall pick to a team that traded up for a signal caller at no. 11 a year ago? As completely insane as that question is, it sure looks like we're heading in that direction.