What happens if we’re all wrong? What happens if the Arizona Cardinals don’t do the lead-pipe-lock thing of the 2019 NFL Draft, which is to use the first pick overall on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray? What happens if they shock the world April 25 and trade the pick, or take someone else?
It’s 10 days before the first round kicks off, and we’ve talked ourselves into being sure the Cardinals will take Murray and pair him with the coach who lusts after him, rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury. And if I had to do my mock today, I’d give Murray to Arizona. (Useless Information Dept.: MOCK DRAFT ALERT!! Mine is next Monday.) It makes a lot of sense to pair your McVayesque head coach with the quarterback he loves.
I’m not positive Murray to the Cards plays out like that. I’ve got a few reasons, after a round of phone calls in the past few days.
Let’s run ’em down:
• I don’t believe there is unanimity inside the Cardinals building today either to take Murray, trade down for a passel of picks to a Murray-loving team, or to sit at one and take an impact player for the defense like edge-rusher Nick Bosa. Then again, if GM Steve Keim and Kingsbury both want Murray, that’s going to be the pick.
• The Cards’ personnel brains—led by Keim and VP of player personnel Terry McDonough—are extremely confident people. If you run a team’s play-acquisition department, of course you should be confident. But Keim and McDonough are at the upper end among NFL personnel people in belief in their ability to pick players. I think Keim wouldn’t blink about trading the first pick. Keim won’t be scared to buck conventional wisdom.
• Suppose the Raiders, picking fourth, and coach Jon Gruden, who was openly covetous of Murray at the combine, decide that three of their five first-round picks in the next two drafts are worth using to get the first pick. Theoretically, suppose the Raiders trade the fourth and 27th picks in round one this year, plus one of their two first-rounders next year, to deal up to Arizona’s pick, and the Raiders take Murray. Then suppose they could recoup one of those first-round picks by trading quarterback Derek Carr to Miami or Washington or the Giants for a 2020 first-rounder. Over the next four years, the Raiders would save about $13 million a year by paying a first-pick quarterback an average of $8.5 million a year, as opposed to the $21.5 million average on the remaining four seasons of Carr’s contract.
• If you’re the Cards, and you could have four first-round picks in the next two years, including the fourth overall pick this year, and you have a coach you believe could make Josh Rosen 20 percent better, it might make sense to try to ransom the pick. To take the Murray pick and deal it, and be in position to choose a defensive centerpiece like Josh Allen or Quinnen Williams and two more first-rounders … tempting.
• Few teams in the NFL need a transfusion of talent at multiple positions like Arizona. The respected player-rating site Pro Football Focus ranks players top to bottom at each position. In 2018, Arizona had only two players from its starting 22 rated in the top 15 in the league at their positions: middle linebacker Josh Bynes (fifth) and cornerback Patrick Peterson (ninth). Arizona did not have a top-30 guard, center, tackle, tight end, running back, quarterback, defensive tackle or safety. Alarming. Trading the top pick could be medicine for a lot of personnel issues in Arizona.
But it Keim thinks Murray’s going to have Mahomes-like impact, or even close, he should resist temptation, pick Murray, and deal Josh Rosen 10 nights from now. Peter Schrager made a good point the other day on “Good Morning Football:” In 1984, the Portland Trail Blazers had a young shooting guard they liked, Clyde Drexler, who went on to be a Hall of Fame player. Owning the second pick of the ’84 draft, with Michael Jordan on the board, Portland picked center Sam Bowie. Some 35 years later, it’s still the worst NBA draft decision ever. If the Cards see star power in Murray, their decision should be made.
Who knows how good the 5-10 Murray will be? But living with passing on him would be something Keim, and steward-of-the-franchise president Michael Bidwill, must consider with one of the biggest decisions this team has had to make since moving to Arizona in 1988.