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Is Josh Rosen a victim of circumstance or just bad?

Josh Rosen’s NFL career crashed and burned. Can he redeem it?

San Francisco 49ers Training Camp Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On Tuesday the San Francisco 49ers waived quarterback Josh Rosen. The move came after Rosen said publicly that he wasn’t getting many opportunities for snaps in training camp. It marked his fourth team in four years — a precipitous tumble after being a top 10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Is this the end of the road for Rosen? Is this simply a case of a highly-touted passer being a bust, or could he turn it around? Is Rosen a victim of circumstance, or his own hubris? The answer to all this, as far as we know, is complicated. However, the NFL is a league of reclamation projects and coaches who believe they can get it right, where others went wrong. This means Rosen can, and should be able to find a new home — albeit it would need to be the right one.

Rosen was drafted by the wrong team, at the wrong time

At the end of the 2017 season the Cardinals were in dire need of soul searching. Vaunted head coach Bruce Arians had just announced his retirement from the NFL following the 2017 season, and it was unclear what caliber of candidate the oft-laughing stock of the NFL could attract, especially with several teams needing coaches.

Rather than a deep, traditional coaching search, general manager Steve Keim found inspiration in a rather odd place.

With just one year of experience as Carolina’s defensive coordinator (taking over for Sean McDermott who went to Buffalo) the Cardinals hired Wilks, a Ron Rivera protege, to lead the team. Desperate to make his own mark, Wilks tried to land his franchise quarterback in his first draft, selecting Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick.

There was debate over who the best prospect would be in a QB-heavy top-10. Baker Mayfield was the safest choice at No. 1, followed by a lot of players with upside, but considerable risk. Sam Darnold went to the Jets, Josh Allen to the Bills, and Rosen rounded out the group — though many felt he might end up being the best quarterback in the class. Still, the major reservation was that Rosen needed to become a leader, act more mature. Make no mistake: The idea of a quarterback needing “maturity” isn’t a new one, heck, it was one of the primary reasons Aaron Rodgers fell in the 2005 NFL Draft

The Cardinals started the season in an 0-3 hole, with a disastrous start by start Sam Bradford. It meant Rosen was thrust into a starting role he really wasn’t ready for, as Wilks was ready to sink or swim with this pick.

Arizona sunk.

There weren’t many bright spots for Rosen. He led the Cardinals to a gutsy win in Week 8 against the 49ers, the again in Week 12 against the Packers — but didn’t look very convincing along the way. When the dust settled the Cardinals were terrible once again, and Wilks was fired when the team realized they could land a major prize: Kliff Kingsbury.

One of the hottest prospective coaches in the league, fans salivated over Kingsbury bringing his up-tempo Texas Tech offense to the NFL. Arizona had the No. 1 pick, and the perfect big-armed quarterback to execute his vision in Kyler Murray.

Suddenly Rosen wasn’t just on the outs, he never even figured into the equation.

Taking his talents to South Beach

At this point we’ve established that Rosen, a once-promising prospect, needed maturity and support around him. Instead he was traded to the Dolphins, a team that had Ryan Fitzpatrick, and a handful of magic beans left by Adam Gase. Incoming head coach Brian Flores had a ton of potential and promise, but he wasn’t given the opportunity to find “his guy.”

Rosen was absolutely awful in his limited opportunities, once again thrust into a starting role he wasn’t ready for — this time on a team with even less talent than the one he left.

The Dolphins finished with a top five pick, selecting Tua Tagovailoa. Rosen’s time in Miami was done.

Let the bouncing begin ...

Rosen then signed with the Buccaneers on their practice squad before being released. The 49ers signed him, even inking him to a one-year contract extension following the 2020 season. It was a sign that maybe, finally, the quarterback had found a home.

Then San Francisco drafted Trey Lance. For the third time in his career it appeared Rosen might have a shot, only for a team to draft a new franchise quarterback to take his reps. Early in camp Rosen was given credit by coach Kyle Shanahan, who then said he’d “taken a few steps back.” Rosen was honest about his struggles, saying it was due to being constantly on edge.

“I don’t really get many reps in practice so you just have to sort of weather the emotional roller coaster when one or two out of your three throws in live team reps aren’t very good.”

Now, Rosen is looking for a new place to land. Time will tell if he finds a place.

There are teams who should ABSOLUTELY take a flier on Josh Rosen

Look, up to this point, there’s very little reason to believe Rosen can be an NFL star. The few opportunities he had were decidedly bad, but there’s no denying there is potential there.

This is a player who had a clearly laid out path to success, and never got it. Rosen needed to go to a veteran team, with established talent, and a place where he could sit, learn the locker room culture, and buy into the plan with consistency. He has never, ever had that. Rosen has also been constantly cast aside in favor of rookie talent.

In the 2021 NFL Draft we saw several teams with veteran quarterbacks pass on taking a rookie. The Falcons, Rams, Vikings, and Steelers are all organizations that could, and should, roll the dice on bringing Rosen in, because there’s absolutely no risk. In each of these cases he would be able to sit on a veteran team, with established QB leadership, and learn.

Is it likely Rosen is simply a bust? Sure. Is there a chance, however slim, he could prove useful to a team? Also yes. I mean heck, if Sam Darnold, Dwayne Haskins, and Nathan Peterman can get chances to keep playing, so should Josh Rosen.

Personally, I think it’s worth a roll of the dice.