Set Up To Fail: The Josh Rosen Story

Photo: © Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

September 22nd, AT&T Stadium - 5:58 remains in the 2nd Quarter. Miami Dolphins QB Josh Rosen takes the snap. Quickly surveying the field, he throws up a lob to rookie wideout Preston Williams in the end zone. The pass is perfect - a touchdown in plain sight - but in typical Dolphins fashion, the team finds a way to mess things up. Williams bobbles the great throw and the team squanders its best opportunity of the game. It’s a microcosm of the organization’s putrid start to the season, the dropped pass serving as the latest in a long line of inexcusable gaffes.

In the agonizing moment, it’s impossible not to feel for the 22-year old Rosen, a once-promising prospect whose career has come crashing down on him like a tidal wave. Dealt a brutal supporting cast and stuck on a helpless Dolphin squad, Rosen continues to try and claw his way into a mastermind “Trust the Porpoise” vision that is doing whatever it can to lose football games.

It’s comical and horrid to watch - but at the same time - truly hard to blame Miami. For a club that’s been stuck in mediocrity for so long, the attraction towards a full-scale rebuild is sensible - and the execution so far has been nothing short of perfection. The Dolphins have made it clear they aren’t in the market to win football games this season, with each action they make serving as another blow to the team’s non-existent win column. Outscored 133-16 in the first three games of the season, Miami has taken the term “tanking” to a whole new level - trading young stars, releasing savvy veterans, and even benching promising prospects.

It leaves players like Rosen left out in the cold. Unfortunately for him, he’s had plenty of experience in this regard.

The Beginning

Although Rosen’s football career has been a well-documented battle, his life as an athlete wasn’t always so difficult. Now that’s not to say he didn’t earn the benefits that came his way - he did - but Rosen’s wealthy lifestyle enabled him to experience opportunities that not everyone comes across.

Born in Manhattan Beach, California, Rosen gives off those cliche “surfer dude” vibes, but his background goes far beyond any prototypical stereotype. Raised by an orthopedic spine surgeon and a successful journalist, his parents were both exceptional athletes (his dad an ice skater and his mom a lacrosse star), and it was obvious that he would follow in their successful footsteps. It just wasn’t clear - at least initially - what area that success was going to be in.

Spending his time practicing at the Manhattan Country Club as a kid, Rosen had his choice of sports - and the amenities he was provided with ensured that this was the case. Surrounded by state of the art facilities, Rosen had limitless possibilities - assuming he applied himself towards the craft he wanted to pursue. It just turned out that craft wasn’t football. It was tennis.

A natural on the court, Rosen’s physical and mental gifts stood out from the get-go. With his superb arm talent and polished footwork, he went to rank as the #1 player in California at just 12-years-old, and it seemed as if this was only the beginning of a remarkable career.

As many athletes are aware of though, reality can change in the snap of a finger (little Thanos joke for ‘ya). All it took was a rough shoulder injury and a nasty rehab for Rosen to contemplate everything - and his health problems ended up giving him a risky ultimatum. 

“I was rehabbing for a long time and realized at that time it wasn't a sport I loved,” Rosen explained in a 2014 interview with CFB 24/7. “I had to get surgery or quit (Tennis), and after eight months of rehab going back and forth, I didn’t know if I loved the game as much as I did before.”

Rosen ended up choosing the latter of those two difficult options, but as his career has gone on to show, he’s much better off for it.

California Dreamin’

Born to play quarterback.

After needing a new sport and ultimately choosing football, Rosen needed a position - and nothing fit better than QB. Reminiscent of serving on those old Country Club Courts, Rosen felt at home out on the field, using the ingrained traits from his athletic background to shred opposing defences. Becoming the Los Angeles Times Player of the Year at St. John Bosco High School, Rosen’s success led him to a 5-star ranking - a prestigious honor that had colleges scrambling to recruit him. Receiving offers from over a dozen top-notch schools, Rosen stuck with his hometown UCLA squad - and that’s where his mountainous journey truly began.

Thrown right into the fire as a true freshman, Rosen responded to the difficult task admirably. Playing a scrappy Virginia in his college debut, he looked every bit the part, completing 80% of his passes for over 350 yards and 3 touchdowns. The natural poise and comfort he had at the position for a first-year player were unmatched - and after winning his first 4 games - it didn’t take long for the national media to pick up on it too. Dubbed “The Chosen One” by the UCLA faithful, Rosen was the type of pro-ready freshman QB that the NFL hadn’t seen since Andrew Luck, with some even suggesting he should skip the rest of his college career because they had already seen enough. After only 13 games. 

The honeymoon period wore off in record time however, as Rosen’s supporting cast began to fail him. After losing both his top target Jordan Payton (to the NFL) and his offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone (to Texas A&M), Rosen entered his sophomore year with not only sky-high expectations but a new and unfamiliar roster around him. Stuck trying to do too much on a team that relied far too heavily on his abilities, Rosen succumbed to the hype, attempting to play hero ball and forcing errant passes left and right. Now don’t get me wrong, the 19-year old QB didn’t play badly. Averaging 320 yards a game, he carried the team on his outmatched body as far as he could - but the reliance on his magical right shoulder was simply too much - and it gave way as a result. Suffering structural damage to his throwing arm in an October match-up against Arizona State, Rosen tried playing through the injury before being shut down for the season after 6 games. It marked the abrupt end to a disappointing year, serving as a classic “sophomore slump” for the star passer.

Unfortunately, the struggles would continue in his 3rd season, where Rosen again tried to make up for the incompetence around him. Working with another offensive coordinator (his 3rd in 3 years), Rosen was able to put up career highs in essentially all categories, but for some reason, it still felt like he underperformed - with those unreachable expectations as a freshman serving as the main culprit.

NFL teams still recognized the talent though - even through UCLA’s blurry lenses. Rosen was projected as a Top 10 pick for the 2018 Draft and decided to declare for the pros. Stepping out of California for the first time in his life, he was about to be put under one of the biggest microscopes a prospect has ever seen. The star passer just didn’t know it yet.

More than Football

"Stick to sports."

We hear the phrase all the time, and I'm not sure if there's anything more demeaning to a professional athlete. Fans and viewers forget that these aren’t just puppets for entertainment - they’re people - and ultimately need to be treated as such.

Sometimes the fame and contracts can make things complicated, but at the end of the day, if “Dan from accounting” can express his political opinions online, a famous athlete can too. Josh Rosen more than abided by this logic, but it didn’t exactly bode well for his pre-draft process.

Notably outspoken at UCLA, Rosen has been a very self-aware and deliberate person throughout his lifetime, and his hard-fast left-wing opinions seemingly spit in the face of his assumed “rich-white kid” persona. That same confidence can also be misconstrued as cockiness, however, especially after he posted an infamous 2015 picture in his dorm room - showing Rosen sitting with a woman inside of a hot tub. For most it’s “a college guy being a college guy”, but that excuse didn’t fly for NFL teams. He was about to be the face of a franchise - the expectations of which are higher than arguably any other position in sports. 

Rosen later admitted the slip-up though, explaining to ESPN’s Sam Alipour that “I enjoy making people laugh, but what I find funny online is what others might misconstrue and find jerkish. (I) need to refine my message but at the same time not lose sight of who I am.”

Unfortunately, the apology wouldn’t remove the image from the minds of NFL decision-makers, and the photo - along with more controversial off-field activity - had teams weary heading into the draft.

Continuing his so-called “antics” in April 2016, Rosen wore a hat with the message “F**k Trump” on it, a public display that UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora wasn’t too happy about. He even went as far to caution Rosen from being the next “Johnny Manziel.”

But unlike a Manziel, Rosen is much more than just style - he’s substance. Able to use his strong opinions and undying motivation to good use, he’s made actual change for the causes he believes in, even if it doesn’t thrill his employers. A notable activist in the “pay college players” movement, Rosen has helped serve as a forefront leader of the campaign. He was even a part - albeit very small - of the California likeness law being approved just a few weeks ago - the purpose of which allows college athletes to compensate off of their name. And Rosen hasn’t stopped there. Adding to his impressive resume is his dedication to helping save the earth. With the aid of 4Ocean, Rosen has not only organized numerous beach cleanings to promote positive environmental habits, but he’s even made a point to wear cleats made from recycled plastic bottles. 

“It’s kind of important to me to keep the bigger picture in mind,” Rosen stated in regards to his planetary initiative. “We’re getting to play this game and have a blast, but we’re also in a city (Miami) that is at severe risk for global warming and climate change.”

Ultimately it’s that selflessness and sense of compassion for other people - and even our planet - that flies in the face of the “cocky” and “entitled” person so many think Rosen is.

Whether or not you agree with his divisive takes, one thing is clear - Rosen is misunderstood. And it’s that misunderstanding that allowed him to fall in the draft and let the Arizona Cardinals reap the rewards. Or so we thought.

Cardinal Collapse

After being selected with the 10th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Rosen faced an even tougher task than the one he had at UCLA - trying to reinvent a stale and bland Cardinals organization. By all accounts, he was up for the task, but his opinion towards the matter came with even more controversy (of course).

“I was pissed”, Rosen explained after falling on draft day. "The biggest thing was motivation. I felt determined. Nine mistakes were made ahead of me, and I’ll make sure over the next decade or so that they will know that they made a mistake,” he later continued. 

It was a natural response for an upset and feisty competitor, but considered smug and arrogant for the privileged ”hot tub playboy” that Rosen was being construed as. Nevertheless, he went to work. 

Beginning the year behind incumbent starter Sam Bradford, the plan was for Rosen to spend his rookie year learning on the bench, but as is the case with most first-year quarterbacks, that idea went out the window as soon as the Cardinals started racking up losses. Thrown into the fire in Week 3 (against a vaunted Bears Defense), Rosen performed with mixed results in a horrible situation. He showed some of the flash and upside that had gotten him to this point, but just like at UCLA, his supporting cast made it impossible to see things clearly. That theme would continue for the rest of the season, where Rosen cycled through two more offensive coordinators, a turnstile offensive line, and a porous wideout corps (excluding Larry Fitzgerald). He was hung out to dry for his entire 13 game stretch as the Cardinals starter, posting abysmal stats and a 2-11 record. 

For a league with ever-increasing impatience, it caused the fire of Head Coach Steve Wilks after only 1 season on the job, as well as the subsequent hire of Quarterback ”guru” Kliff Kingsbury. Working with the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield throughout his up and down Texas Tech career, the hope was that Kingsbury would rejuvenate a beaten down Rosen. It turns out the opposite took place.

Not a part of Kingsbury's new ”Air Raid” vision, Rosen was thrown to the side in favor of Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, an electric prospect who Arizona decided to invest their 1st overall pick in - rather than use it to help Rosen. The choice to build around Murray meant that the Cardinals had completely turned their back on Rosen, only a few short months after Kingsbury declared him ”their guy” - claiming they would do everything in their power to support him. 

Arizona going back on their word was obviously difficult for the California passer to handle, and it was easy to see why Rosen snarkily unfollowed the Cardinals social media pages on the first day of the 2019 draft. That was, at least, for some people.

Sparking even more controversy, the small click of a button led many, including the NFL Network’s Steve Smith, to rip into Rosen’s character. 

“We’ve got six rounds in the next couple days. Guys are getting replaced. You are replaceable. They say in the league, the more you can do, it helps your opportunities. So now you’re mad because they brought some competition here? So you’re going to try to take your ball? Well, first of all, son, it ain’t your damn ball to take anyway.
So you just keep playing with your phone, and you keep showing us what the stigma of you and who you are at UCLA. Now you’ve brought it to the professional level and showed us when things don’t go your way, you’re going to cry in the corner. But guess what? They’re going to ship your [expletive] somewhere else, and you can go cry and be their problem. Listen, this is a man’s game. Be a man and go against that man, one-on-one. He gets 10 plays, you get 10 plays, do your deal. Ain’t nobody giving you nothing…. Do you know why he won’t be on the roster? Because he ain’t got enough heart to be on that roster. He’s got to go out there and work his [expletive] off. He doesn’t want to work.”

Smith, of course, didn't realize that Rosen - despite the rumors of Murray - had attended every single team event that spring. He also failed to understand that Rosen supported the Cardinal community even after his departure, participating in events like Larry Fitzgerald’s charity softball tournament. Furthermore, Arizona simply wasn’t going to have an open QB competition. It didn’t matter if Rosen looked like Tom Brady out there - they had moved on - and it only seemed natural for Rosen to do the same. 

The misguided perception of his person was impossible to shake, however, and that disappointing draft weekend it came out in full force.

Miami Meltdown

“One drop, two drop, sad drop, bad drop. Lose by 30 and we will come out on top”. 

If Dr. Seuss tried writing a poem about the 2019-20 Dolphins, I’m pretty sure he’d come up with something along those lines.

After dealing with poor coaching and a disappointing supporting cast in Arizona, one would assume it couldn’t get worse for Rosen. Well, one could not have been more wrong.

Acquired by Miami for their 2019 2nd Round draft pick - the Dolphins seemed to have invested a decent amount in Rosen - a still promising quarterback who just needed a clean slate. But by later purging the entire team - and thus putting him in an impossible predicament - the decision to acquire Rosen seemed puzzling. After all, why trade for a player if you won’t surround him with talent? That becomes clearer the more you looked into Miami’s master plan. 

By savvily trading down to acquire a future 2nd Round pick this past April, Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier essentially traded nothing for Rosen, and the small investment has been treated as such. Simply put, the organization isn’t tied to him, and thus anything Rosen does from now until the rest of the year is considered a simple bonus. Despite his presence on the roster, Miami is already looking at QB’s in next year’s draft, with the choice to select a new passer essentially set in stone before Rosen even took a snap. It’s a frustrating and unfair turn of events, but ultimately nothing new for the California kid. Rosen is being sent out onto the football field to fail - and it’s not exactly an unfamiliar situation.

From his struggles at UCLA to his difficult pre-draft process to even his betrayal in Arizona - he’s been here before. And if his turbulent past is any indication, Rosen is going to keep fighting until he finally gets a real chance to prove his worth.

Written By:

Carter Donnick

Publications Intern

Publications Intern at The Draft Network. Very Canadian.