Why the Cardinals Should Draft a Quarterback

One of the biggest points of discussion during the NFL combine was whether or not the Cardinals would draft Kyler Murray with the number one pick. The main argument for why they should not do this is because last year the Cardinals traded the 79th and 152nd pick in the NFL draft to move up five spots and select Josh Rosen at number 10 in the 2018 draft. Rosen struggled last season, but that isn’t uncommon for rookies especially ones on a team as poorly constructed as the current Cardinals. So since they have a player already on the team at the position that they are developing why select another? This is a topic I’ve touched on before and I think it is one worth discussing again since its more of a real topic at this point in time.

The driving force behind sustained success in the NFL is I think universally agreed upon to be the quarterback. It’s why teams reach desperation levels in contract negotiations to find a player or trade away massive amounts of draft capital just to select a young one. Until you find one you are basically stuck in purgatory as a team. Maybe you can sneak a playoff season in here or there but the ability to sustain it is rarely there especially in this day and age.

A team should be doing everything in its power to find a quarterback. And more often than not finding that quarterback occurs in the draft. Free agency is a pretty rare place to find someone. Sure Drew Brees shook free a million years ago and landed in New Orleans and the jury is still out on last year’s big signing of Kirk Cousins, but mainly its overpaying for the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, Brock Osweiler, and Case Keenum. So you need to draft the position.

The problem is drafting a player doesn’t mean you get it right. Yet teams refuse to embrace that possibility. They focus instead on the development of who they have. The Jets drafted Christian Hackenberg in the 2nd round and in part passed on drafting Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes because they thought they could develop Hackenberg. The Jaguars did the same with those two because they had the still developing Blake Bortles.

The fact is most of the draft picks at the position are not a success. Using profootballreference.com and their handy draft finder here are the percentage of QB’s to go to a Pro Bowl based on where a player was drafted from 2000 through 2015.

Draft RangePro BowlTotalPct
1 thru 5121963.2%
6 thru 3252420.8%
Round 2 and up101128.9%

The Pro Bowl is a pretty low bar so we are likely inflating these numbers a bit but I think its safe to say that if a drafted QB doesn’t land in the PB at some point in his career a team is not going to be thrilled with the selection.

So if you look at where Rosen lands in all of this he is in the 21% category. By no means is he a sure thing even if you do surround him with talent and get the greatest QB minds in the world to work with him. He may very well be an average or worse starter in the league. He could be a star like Patrick Mahomes and you cant discount that possibility but why bank on it when the odds are against it?

With Murray you are adding somewhere around a 60% hit rate to the equation. So where is a team better off?  Having just the 20%ish hit rate possibility with Rosen or having a 60% and a 20% chance with both?  The odds of both failing is going to be in the low 30% range.  That’s much better than the 75-80% chance of failure you have now by just sticking with Rosen.

There is also the consideration that the ability to get the possibility is hard to get a second time. This was a big reason why, in my opinion, the Giants made a mistake last year. You really want to be in the top 5 to draft your best chance at a QB. With 32 teams getting a top 5 pick isn’t very common. Your top 5 pick also has to coincide with a QB heavy draft which also isn’t common. To get the opportunity and bypass it is foolish.

There is also the financial issue that so many bring up. This is a carryover excuse from the old CBA. In the old CBA contracts at the top of the draft cost a significant amount of money. If the old system had simply increased with the salary cap growth a deal for the top pick would be at least $18 million a year. In reality it would be well into the $20 million per year range. Drafting two QBs would be cost prohibitive and based on the way the deals were structured likely salary cap prohibitive.

But that was nearly 10 years ago when this was the case. This year the top pick in the NFL will earn about $8.79 million a season. If the Cardinals did indeed select Murray at the top of the draft the combined cost per year for he and Rosen would be a grand total of $13.2 million a season. That would rank 20th in the NFL. Assuming they release backup Mike Glennon it would only be $4.7 million more than they have invested in the position this year with the hope Rosen is good.

Not only that but last year the Cardinals signed Sam Bradford to a deal that was worth $18.5 million a year while also signing Glennon and drafting Rosen. The Cardinals for one year said that it was fair to invest about $27 million per year in QB’s. How can $27 million per year not be too high but $13.2 million be considered high?  If you are so far under the NFL average it still means you are at a competitive advantage in being able to devote resources to other positions with the cheap QB spend.

You take this all into account and it is why I would not look at this as an either/or situation. Just because you draft Murray doesn’t mean you bail on Rosen. To optimize the chance of success you want to try to develop both unless you are offered a haul for Rosen.

What would that haul be?  More than what they gave up and what they gave up was the 10, 79 and 152. Even though Rosen didn’t play well last year why would I say hes worth more than that?  The Cardinals already paid about 65% of the contract. So not only are you getting a top 10 drafted QB you are getting him after another team picked up all the risk in the contract.

The average salary remaining for Rosen is just $2.08 million a year. That’s about what Matt Barkley is earning from the Bills. That has to be worth a fortune to a team. The Cardinals would be doing themselves a disservice to assume all the financial risk and just sell for pennies on the dollar because they found a new toy.

Generally QB values don’t drop until you show extended periods of being poor. Even if you have no intention of ever playing Rosen you do what you can to maximize how he looks in the preseason or in limited game action. How much did Jimmy Garoppolo show when the Patriots recovered their draft pick for him years later? How much did players like Kevin Kolb and Matt Schaub show when they were traded?  You really should keep both at least for this season.

Are there reasons why teams maybe should hesitate?  I guess if you are worried about a split locker room you could be but in reality if you win the locker room is going to feel great about it. You don’t get the immediate satisfaction of getting a young pass rusher on the field by drafting back to back QBs, but so what?  Use the savings that you will be getting at the position relative to others to go into free agency and sign someone. At worst you are just waiting until you find which one is the QB and then trade the other for a high pick.

Honestly I wouldn’t just leave this concept of drafting the QB just for when you have rookies either. Since the opportunity is pretty rare I think even when you have a proven veteran its worth the risk. Again you know you can recover that pick at a later date but its also far more affordable to move to the rookie at some point and also covers you in the long term if a player gets injured or falls off. Id rather have a rookie I can turn to than feel locked into extending a good but not great QB onto a second or third contract. That’s a different discussion for another time when the player is more proven, but just in terms of this particular situation there is such limited downside to making the move that the Cardinals should do it even if it flies in the face of conventional football wisdom.