Kliff Kingsbury loves Kyler Murray.
He absolutely loves him. He speaks of him in reverent tones. He once warned NFL teams anyone who didn’t draft him was a big dummy.
And now Kingsbury, fired Texas Tech head coach and now current Arizona Cardinals head coach, has the chance to prove himself no dummy. His team drafted Murray — baseball firmly in his rear view — with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. But if Kingsbury’s fresh start is going to go off smoothly with his new franchise quarterback, he’s going to have to figure out what to do with the old one first.
The first step to bringing Murray to Arizona will be offloading Josh Rosen, the 10th overall pick of last year’s NFL Draft. His 2018 onboarding failed to go smoothly as a rookie for the talent void that sank to the bottom of the league’s standings last fall.
Sam Bradford, brought in to serve as a placeholder starter and steady veteran presence, crumbled into dust in a three-game audition before being deactivated to save the franchise more than $4 million in roster bonuses. That made Rosen a starter in Week 4, where he wound up throwing passes to a still-good-but-35-years-old Larry Fitzgerald, Ricky Seals-Jones, and Chad Williams. His offensive line allowed him to be sacked once out of every 10 dropbacks, earning Pro Football Focus’s worst grade in the league.
This is all to say things went poorly for the rookie out of UCLA. He completed only 55 percent of his passes, averaged fewer than six yards per attempt, and was one of two rookie passers to throw more interceptions than touchdowns (the other was Josh Allen).
That performance failed to sell his employers on his future, and now Kyler Murray is a Cardinal. This was not especially surprising.
When asked whether Rosen was his quarterback going forward, general manager Steve Keim told reporters “he is right now, for sure.” While that last “for sure” may have meant to sound reassuring, it tracked like a Jon Lovitz-ian addition. “Right now” apparently had a shelf life of six weeks — and other NFL clubs knew it.
Cardinals Quarterback Josh Rosen has deleted all Cardinals related Instagram posts pic.twitter.com/hAhoM3wmiG— Jesse Finver (@JfinverSports12) February 28, 2019
This means a top-10 pick in the most recent NFL Draft is suddenly an albatross around Keim’s neck. So if the Cardinals were looking to trade a promising young passer coming off a terrible rookie season, where could they turn? Here are five destinations that make sense for Josh Rosen.
The Giants’ efforts to create a contingency plan for life after Eli Manning have all failed spectacularly, and Kyle Lauletta’s awful performance in an extremely small sample size suggests he’s another link in that proud chain. Now that Manning’s locked in for at least one more year in blue, acquiring Rosen would give the team an exit strategy for 2020.
Rosen was a talent who had Giants fans and analysts salivating last spring, and shipping off an early second-round pick for him would give the club a dream 2018 scenario of having both the UCLA passer and reigning offensive rookie of the year Saquon Barkley on the same roster. It might be a tough sell for a rebuilding team that needs help across its depth chart, however; New York only has two picks before Day 3 of the draft after selecting cornerback Sam Beal in the third round of last year’s supplemental draft.
They’ll have some competition from an in-division rival. Washington was jockeying for a potential Rosen trade as well, per reports:
Source says the Redskins and Giants are expected to be among the bidders for Josh Rosen. Not clear yet if the trade will happen tonight.— MarkMaske (@MarkMaske) April 26, 2019
But after drafting Dwayne Haskins at No. 15, it appears Washington is out of the Rosen race this summer.
The Jags are the clubhouse leaders to sign Nick Foles, but adding a 30-year-old quarterback with a career passer rating of 74.2 outside of Philadelphia may not be the panacea Jacksonville craves. While Foles could be a solid stopgap option, the franchise could also insulate itself for the future by adding a player who could develop alongside the veteran whose guidance helped Carson Wentz make the leap from overwhelmed rookie to MVP candidate in his second year as a pro.
This, somehow, could saddle Rosen with a worse supporting cast than the one he had in Arizona. His top two wideouts would Dede Westbrook and Marqise Lee, the latter of whom is coming off a season-ending knee injury. His top tailback, Leonard Fournette, averaged only 3.3 yards per carry last season and looks more and more like the NFL doppelgänger of Trent Richardson. An injury-riddled offensive line allowed sacks on nine percent of dropbacks in 2018. Jacksonville isn’t especially inviting for quarterbacks this spring.
Bill Belichick loves turning other teams’ underwhelming high-value draft picks into reclamation projects in New England. Under his watch, players like Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, and Aqib Talib all saw their value rise after moving to Foxborough. Others, like Kony Ealy, Danny Shelton, and Jonathan Cooper, didn’t work out so well.
That propensity to take big swings, even on flawed prospects, means the Pats won’t be deterred by Rosen’s ugly start in the desert. Belichick needs to start prepping for Tom Brady’s eventual departure, even if Brady’s desire to play until age 45 would push him through the end of Rosen’s rookie contract. Bringing the former UCLA star to the northeast would give him a low-pressure environment to develop his game and set him up as the future of one of the league’s most prestigious franchises. If Matt Cassel and Jimmy Garoppolo could thrive at Gillette Stadium, Rosen probably could, too.
The Dolphins are probably ending their Ryan Tannehill experiment after only six brief years and heading into a full rebuild under new head coach Brian Flores. However, last year’s 7-9 record has them stuck at the No. 13 pick in this year’s draft — likely excluding them from the Murray/Dwayne Haskins tier of QB prospects and forcing them to choose between exciting but potentially flawed passers like Drew Lock or Daniel Jones instead. Murray had been a popular mock draft pick for Miami early in the draft process, but the combination of Kingsbury’s adoration and his taller-than-expected 5’10 measurement at the combine suggests he won’t be available in the mid-first.
If neither of those options makes sense to Flores and general manager Chris Grier, Rosen could be a useful alternative. He’d have zero expectations in his first season in Miami — which is good, because given the Dolphins’ lack of general talent, he’d probably have another regrettable year. Would that taint him with an inescapable stench of failure? Or would he grow into his potential while no one was watching?
How does Byron Leftwich feel about Rosen? The former Cardinals offensive coordinator reunited with head coach Bruce Arians in Tampa this winter, and the two could be in the market for a young quarterback to pick up the pieces if poor judgment shatters Jameis Winston’s prospects once more. Leftwich wasn’t able to do much with the first-round pick in his rookie year, but much of that damage can be placed on an awful supporting cast.
Rosen would get the chance to work with Mike Evans and the bones of an offense that passed for more than 320 yards per game this past season. Getting some help from Arians, who helped Andrew Luck transition seamlessly into the league as a rookie and then got more than anyone could have expected from late-stage Carson Palmer in Glendale, would also be a boon for Rosen’s career. Ryan Fitzpatrick is unlikely to return to Tampa, so adding the second-year quarterback would give the Bucs a useful backup AND some Winston insurance for the future.
Rosen’s 2018 painted him as a rough-edged prospect, but teams across the league would be willing to wager his disappointing rookie year was more a product of his environment than any fatal flaws in his game. If the Cardinals really want to double-down on Kingsbury’s quarterback crush and welcome Murray to the league, they will have plenty of suitors willing to pay for Rosen’s services.
Just not at a high price.