Josh Rosen: Where Most NFL Teams See an Enigma, the Arizona Cardinals See Their Future
On Wednesday, I asked someone with a team that had been linked to Josh Rosen over the last few weeks if the interest there had been genuine. And I found out that in that club’s war room, a certain quote was raised that stuck with everyone.
“You know the former Princeton [basketball] coach Pete Carril?” this person said. “The saying he had was, ‘Don’t ever recruit a kid with a three-car garage and a long driveway.’”
I don’t know if Rosen had either of those things growing up in Manhattan Beach, Calif. The geography of that town would suggest he probably didn’t. But the point was made, and it’s been made over and over again by coaches and scouts in the lead-up to last Thursday: He’s spoiled, and entitled, and not made for pro football life.
And as a result, the NFL largely never really trusted the UCLA quarterback.
That’s why, coming out of last weekend, I think Rosen is the most interesting figure in a draft class full of stories that should be fascinating for years to come. The new Cardinal has been considered the next big thing for longer than most fans have known who Josh Allen or Sam Darnold are, and going back to a time when Baker Mayfield was seen as more gimmicky product of a college spread than NFL prospect.
Rosen is a prodigy. But he’s also an enigma who fought a battle over the last few months that wasn’t really winnable—trying to get people who have a deep-seated belief built over three years about who he is, for better or worse, to change their minds through a series of dinners, 15-minute meetings in hotel rooms and workouts on campus.
That’s why I thought it was particularly interesting hearing, via the Cardinals’ website, what GM Steve Keim and owner Michael Bidwill said in their first conversation with their new quarterback after trading up to get him with the No. 10 pick.
Cradling a desk phone, Keim referenced Rosen’s trip to visit the team in Arizona, which happened earlier in April: “I’m telling you, that visit that you made left a real impression on us.”
Keim handed the phone to new coach Steve Wilks, who then passed it to Bidwill, who reinforced the point: “Steve just said it, but your visit made a huge difference to us. We’re excited. We were impressed with you, impressed with what you did on the field, but really impressed once we were able to spend some time with you. Enjoy, and we’ll turn [the card] in here in a couple minutes.”
I’ve tried like hell over the last 24 hours to get more on the visit itself. The Cardinals, for now, are keeping specific details under lock and key. But clearly, they left that day with the idea that Rosen’s personality won’t get in the way of he and the team finding away to unlock the boundless potential he brings to the table.
In this week’s Game Plan, we’re going to try to help you get a little more enjoyment out of this year’s draft, by taking you inside the Packers’ process of trading down and then back up with a new GM; giving you insight into the Patriots’ quarterback vetting; explaining how the Bills played poker with their picks; and detailing why the Saints sold out for a pass-rusher.
We’re starting, though, with Rosen, and what the Cardinals saw in him, beyond the obvious physical talent, that made Keim and Wilks feel comfortable with tying their respective futures to the kid.
There are some basics I was able to ascertain. The Cardinals liked that Rosen had a 3.8 GPA as an economics major at UCLA. The Bruins staff told Arizona he was the smartest quarterback they’d ever coached. And Keim and company just flat wound up liking the kid, which was a big part of the battle for Rosen with everyone the last few months.
So for the Cardinals, it went beyond just seeing him as the class’s best and most mechanically sound passer. And that actually matched what I’ve heard from a few other teams that met with him, too. To a point, at least.
“He’s off-the-charts smart,” said one offensive coach who visited with Rosen. “He’s the most ready to play quickly. And I spent [a lot of time] with him and he was fine. Very sharp, quick-minded. He’ll need to be challenged daily or he’ll get bored. And he’s not overly charismatic, but sufficient there.”
“He’s the most talented thrower on tape,” said another coach who met with Rosen. “Just watch the tape, and you’ll say, ‘This guy can throw it.’ The only thing is he’s not great with people around his legs. And then there’s obviously the other stuff you have to sort through. I haven’t spent a ton of time with him, but I heard the rumors. There’s the talk, ‘Do you love it?’ You have to challenge him. And will he grind?”
“From a personality standpoint, I think you have to get to know him, and be around him for a good amount of time to really know what he’s all about,” said a coach from a third team. “The little I was able to gather, he is very confident in his ability, may come off as a cocky, but I think he means well. From a football standpoint, he was the most ready to step in and operate an NFL offense. … It won’t be too big for him.”
On the surface? All good. But dig into those quotes, and you see the qualifiers that have followed him. Needs to be challenged … Do you love it? … May come off as cocky. And it almost doesn’t matter who it is talking about Rosen—here’s always a “but …” in the sentence.
That’s not new, either. Two summers ago, then-UCLA coach Jim Mora, over text, called Rosen’s potential “unlimited. He would’ve been the best QB in the draft this year [over Jared Goff and Carson Wentz]. There’s no question about his ability, only experience and, at this point, maturity.” Mora, to be sure, hasn’t cut out the caveats of late, either.
And if you keep digging, the contradictions continue.
On one hand Rosen is the guy who those at the Manning Passing Academy last summer said was separated from the rest of the quarterbacks—a loner, who could galvanize neither the young campers, nor the older counselors (peers like Darnold and Allen) or coaches around him. He’s drawn comparison, personalitywise, to Jay Cutler, in his reputation for evaluating coaches, and shutting down those he doesn’t respect intellectually.
On the other hand you have the kid whom one ex-UCLA coach said was “always wanting to help [teammates]. He was very concerned with guys that didn’t have what he did. If he felt like someone needed something he could provide, that’s what mattered. He wasn’t going to be the rah-rah guy running down the bench yelling at guys.”
And a situation like that came up last fall, when star receiver Jordan Lasley was suspended for three games. Rosen stayed on top of his teammate during the ban, making sure he didn’t go in the tank and that he was taking care of himself. Lasley repaid Rosen with a career-high 162 yards on seven catches in his first game back, against Arizona State.
The concerns, too, go past that stuff. Rosen took too many hits as a collegian, which caused him to miss nine games over his last two years, and needs to learn to move better in general within the pocket. There are the questions regarding what he’d do if he suffers another bad concussion, given that his dad’s a doctor and he does have some level of financial stability. On the field, he can be overly aggressive with the ball.
Of course, the sum of that doesn’t change what a special talent he is, nor does that talent erase what Rosen has in his past.
“He’s not a bad kid, he’s just an acquired taste, and it really depends on who he’s with,” an exec with another quarterback-hungry team said. “I didn’t dislike him, he’s just kind of immature. … But he’s a good player. There’s the durability issue, he puts himself in harm’s way a lot, and you wonder whether his commitment’s there. And he’s not a big-framed kid, not the best athlete.
“But he is the most natural passer I’ve seen since Andrew Luck.”
Ultimately, all those positives, including that big one, weren’t enough to get the teams in front of Arizona to bite, and he had a message for all them not 10 seconds after the pick was made.
“There were nine mistakes in front me,” he said.
Some teams looked at that as forced, and symbolic of all that’s wrong with Rosen. Other teams loved it. And so it goes with this 21-year-old.
What Rosen has becomes a matter of perspective. We’ll see whether or not the Cardinals see it right.
What we know, for now, is how much stock they put in whatever kind of garage or driveway Rosen’s parents have—not much.
FIRST AND 10
1. The NFL brought a host of respected special teams coaches to New York on Wednesday, including Dave Toub (Kansas City), Jerry Rosburg (Baltimore), Darren Rizzi (Miami), Joe Judge (New England) and Ben Kotwica (Washington) to discuss the future of the kickoff. Our Jenny Vrentas has the details of that group’s proposal—which limits the number of players back on the return team to three, and eliminates the running start for the kickoff team—covered in her column this morning. But what I thought was cool was the process. The above coaches were part of a group of nine guys who spent the past few weeks refining and then voting on the proposal. None of them had to do it. But they saw it as important to the game, and the future of guys in their position, and credit to them for that.
2. How much did Giants GM Dave Gettleman love Saquon Barkley? Other teams were under the impression that he would not trade down past No. 4, and he’d need an assurance that the team coming up would be taking a QB at 2. He wasn’t losing his guy. So for another team to get Barkley, it would have meant trading up to 4 with the Browns, then again to 2.
3. We’ve mentioned there was Baker Mayfield love in the Broncos facility—consultant Gary Kubiak and scouting chief Matt Russell were the names I heard connected to him. But I was sure to maintain this ultimately was up to one man, and that was John Elway. And my understanding now is the one quarterback who Elway would have had a hard time passing on was USC’s Sam Darnold.
4. It should be said, too, that the Broncos were over the moon pleased to get Bradley Chubb, as evidenced by the visceral reaction in the war room when Denzel Ward came off the board at 4. As far back as February, Vance Joseph was drawing up ways that he’d use Chubb in tandem with fellow edge rushers Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett. It just never seem realistic that Chubb would get to Denver at 5. Until he did.
5. We have numbers to put the running back renaissance in perspective. This year’s was class was just the third since 2000 to have seven backs go in the first two rounds, joining the ’08 and ’10 groups, and six of them were gone by the 43rd pick, which is the most to go that fast in 24 years, going all the way back to Marshall Faulk’s draft year. The reason why? The position has evolved and guys are coming into the league as better receivers, which has helped to reestablish the position’s value.
6. The biggest surprise to come from that group was probably Rashaad Penny’s emergence as the first back taken after Barkley. And one thing on Penny that was pointed out to me that specifically fits Seattle—he’s outstanding as an outlet receiver in scramble situations. So it seems like new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer might have a nice way for making defenses pay for chasing Russell Wilson.
7. We’ve talked about the offensive tackle problem the NFL’s had over the last couple years, and so it was interesting to see how New England and Cleveland countered it, having lost long-term left tackles this offseason. Both took players (Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn for New England, Nevada’s Austin Corbett for Cleveland) who played the position in college, but were projected to move to guard in the NFL. I don’t mind the logic either—give them a shot outside, and at worst you’ll probably get a good player inside if it doesn’t work.
8. Decisions on players’ fifth-year options, made going into former first-rounders’ fourth seasons, fly a little under the radar this time of year. But they’re notable in that declining them signals a team giving up on getting proper value from a pick, no matter what they say publicly about it. And so it’s worth mentioning 12 such decisions were made over the past few weeks, on players like Patriots DT Malcom Brown and Jaguars DE Dante Fowler. That number is pretty standard, by the way: 19 of 32 options were picked up in 2014, 20 were picked up in ’15, 18 in ’16, 23 in ’17, compared to 20 this year.
9. If you want to take these things as signs ... (ex?) Cowboys tight end Jason Witten participated in the first two weeks of the team’s offseason program, but has not been there over the past few days for Week 3. So obviously the coming days are critical, particularly because an opportunity like the one Witten has in front of him with Monday Night Football is rare. But the truth is, I’m not sure all of this was going to affect Dallas’ draft strategy much, even if they’d had more notice. At 19, as I understand it, Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch, the apple of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s eye, was always going to be the guy over Maryland WR DJ Moore. And in the second round, even if Philly hadn’t jumped the Cowboys, Texas OL Connor Williams was going to be the pick, with Stanford S Justin Reid (not South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert) being in the conversation.
10. There were rumblings on the afternoon of the draft that the Raiders were looking to trade up for Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey, and the teams I spoke with didn’t know who they were trying to leap-frog to get him. Evidently, they figured out that the team across the bay had eyes for him, even though he hadn’t been linked to the 49ers much during the process. And sure enough, San Francisco was the team that Oakland wound up losing him to, with McGlinchey going ninth overall.
1. How the Bills landed on 7. The key to where the Bills were going in the first round was with a player they ranked as the draft’s best on defense, and one that was never going be on their team: NC State DE Bradley Chubb. We mentioned last week in our pre-draft nuggets how Buffalo GM Brandon Beane wasn’t going to be held at gunpoint over his desire to go and get a quarterback. And since, we’ve been able to ascertain how Buffalo was able to move around the chessboard of the Top 12 picks.
To the Bills brass, two players held the key to how far the team would have to move up: Chubb and Barkley. Given the Giants’ and Browns’ reluctance to move the second and fourth picks, the bet here was that both guys would go in the Top 4, which meant the sweet spot for Beane and Co. was 5. And so before the draft, the Bills worked out the parameters of a trade with the Broncos that would’ve cost Buffalo both the 12th and 22nd picks. From there, Mayfield goes to the Browns at 1, Barkley to the Giants at 2, and Darnold to the Jets at 3, and both Denver and Buffalo are prepared to deal. And then Cleveland stuns both of them by taking Ohio State CB Denzel Ward, and Chubb’s presence on the board leads to Denver taking the deal off the table. So the Broncos taking Chubb caused the Bills to reset.
The Colts, with Quenton Nelson there at 6, weren’t moving. That left Buffalo talking to the Bucs, with concern that Arizona, Miami, New England, or even a dark horse like Pittsburgh or Baltimore could come up and steal Josh Allen. The Bears weren’t trading either, at 8, and so the Bills were working through scenarios with the Bucs and 49ers, whom they’d consider overpaying for the 9th pick. In the end, the key for the Bills was being able to hang on to the 22nd pick, which Tampa was asking for, and they were ready to give up to get to 5. The compromise: The Bills gave up both its second-round picks (53 and 56) to move up seven spots.
The upshot for Buffalo here is that Chubb falling a single spot from where it’d expected him to go basically added up to getting Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds. The Bills dealt the pick they got for Tyrod Taylor (65th overall) to Baltimore to go up six spots for the super athletic 19-year-old, and got a fifth-round pick back (Jacksonville State CB Siran Neal) to boot. The win for the Bills: They got their top-ranked quarterback, and one of the top few defensive players on their board, without having to give up next year’s 1, while holding on to one of their third-round picks (Stanford DT Harrison Phillips). Beane’s patience sure seemed to pay off.
2. Saints pay big-time price, believe they’ve got a big-time player. I understand why some people are scratching their heads over the Saints selling out for a pass-rusher. After all, to move up 13 spots to get Texas-San Antonio phenom Marcus Davenport, they gave up a 2019 first-round pick to get one, which something none of the three teams moving up for quarterbacks did. There’s risk involved, to be sure. But what if I told you that, when he was discussed over the last few weeks, DeMarcus Ware’s name was invoked? And what if that was backed by weight of two men, coach Sean Payton and assistant GM Jeff Ireland, in prominent positions who were there when Ware was drafted by Dallas in 2005? Then would you be okay with it?
Where some teams saw a different dude in Davenport (he’s into poetry) and wondered how that temperament would befit an NFL pass-rusher, the Saints saw someone whose makeup wasn’t far off from Ware’s, complete with the same ability to flip the switch on game day. In fact, New Orleans marked his motor and competitiveness among his strengths. There are others too, of course—Davenport’s a freak athlete (4.58 in the 40) who’s still growing at 6'6" and 263 pounds, and he hit the trifecta when it came to smarts (good in school, good studying football, good processing in-game action). But having seen a guy similar to him make it playing that position, like Payton and Ireland had, was an important element.
Another key factor was how it hard it is to find legit pass-rushers, especially this year. You almost never find them in free agency, because teams that have them wind up keeping them, and it’s tough to land one outside the top 20 picks because that premium is placed on them. And this year, the Saints had medical flags on three of the four edge players ranked behind Chubb and Davenport, and that’s without mentioning guys with other problems (like LSU’s Arden Key). So they took the confidence in their evaluation, buoyed by that Ware example, and tied it to the scarcity that existed at the position. Add to it a desire to help out All-Pro Cam Jordan with a bookend, and also maximize what’s left of Drew Brees’ championship window … and no, their aggression really wasn’t that crazy.
3. Seattle looking to regain its edge. The stories have made the rounds, and they pretty much go like this—last year, as Seattle was coming undone down the stretch, the older core would tell key younger guys what it used to be like in the building. Things like how no one was comfortable, and how the resulting tension led to a electric competitive atmosphere that fueled the group’s rise. And if you’re wondering how that changed, you can point to what you want.
It might be that former fifth-rounders like Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor weren’t fighting for roster spots anymore. It might be that, as much as Pete Carroll and his staff wanted starting positions to be seen as up for grabs, there were lots of places where it was obvious to everyone that wasn’t the case. It might be that so many of the guys who showed up to work spoiling for a fight every day a few years ago had since gotten paid. And on the flip side, those players noticed that the brass: A) wasn’t bringing in the same kind of competitor anymore, and B) was giving younger players breaks they hadn’t gotten when they were coming up.
So whatever you want to attribute all of that to, Seattle is the midst making a conscious effort to fix it. As one source said, “We want to make it 2011 again.” And that carried into draft weekend, with Seattle hellbent on reestablishing the atmosphere that Carroll wants in the building. To that end, just about every player Seattle drafted had to overcome something to get to the NFL. Fifth-round linebacker Shaquem Griffin is the obvious example of that, but far from the only one. First-rounder Rashaad Penny had to earn his way on the field at mid-major San Diego State behind the record-breaking Donnell Pumphery. Third-round DL Rashard Greene is a former five-star recruit who battled through injuries, and fell because he was medically flagged by teams coming out of USC. Will Dissly was a zero-star defensive line recruit at Washington who grew into one of the best blocking tight ends in America. And Michael Dickson made it as a punter at Texas coming from Australia.
Will all of this bring about change? It’ll certainly be easier for Carroll and his staff to say every spot is up for grabs now, and come off as meaning it, and that should make a difference. So too should the influx of edgier younger players. But it’s also important to remember how special what was built in Seattle a half-decade ago has been. It won’t be easy to replicate.
4. Patriots and the quarterbacks. Agent Jack Mills’ appearance on my colleague Andrew Brandt’s podcast certainly revved up the early May scoop machine. It effectively smoked out something that Robert Klemko and I had been hearing for a few weeks on the Patriots’ interest in Baker Mayfield. Indeed, the team had been sniffing around for months, and trying to set up a workout or a visit with the Heisman winner, got told no, and then finally got a date with him after trading Brandin Cooks for the 23rd overall pick. (Because it made the prospect of a trade up more realistic.)
My sense of it? Mayfield was probably the only quarterback that would’ve merited a move up for the Patriots. I wouldn’t have seen it, at all, with Josh Allen or Josh Rosen. And as for Lamar Jackson, the question I believe they’d ask was this—if we flip our offense upside down for him, will he hold up? Jackson’s not built like Cam Newton or Ben Roethlisberger, so that was a potential far-reaching problem, if you had to run him 10-15 times a game to make the offense go. So I don’t think he was much of a consideration at 23 or 31. And after that, I’m not sure there was much love for any of the quarterbacks.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with LSU QB Danny Etling, who the Patriots took in the seventh round, simply to avoid the risk of not getting him as an undrafted free agent. The belief is there are traits there to work with, and that Etling may have been a victim of circumstances in college, like former Patriot revelation Matt Cassel was in a different way coming out in 2005. And since he’s a seventh-rounder, it’s just a dart tossed at the board anyway, with chances remaining that the Patriots will be back out looking for Tom Brady’s successor next spring as their legend approaches his 42nd birthday.
LESSON OF THE WEEK
We’ll lay this one out right here for you: All the wheeling and dealing on draft night that you see on television is as fragile as the future of any quarterback taken in the Top 10. Which is to say a lot of outside forces influence the final result down the line.
And Packers GM Brian Gutekunst’s initial dive into the draft as Ted Thompson’s successor is proof positive of it.
So let’s start at the end, in an effort to trace what the 14th overall pick, Gutekunst’s first with the trigger, wound up becoming. Pair that one with third-round (76th overall) and sixth-round (186th overall) picks, and Green Bay wound up with the 18th overall pick, fifth-round (147th overall) and seventh-round (248th overall) picks in this year’s draft, and the Saints’ first-round pick in 2019.
If you want to put faces to the numbers, they gave up slots that became Davenport, QB Mason Rudolph (Seattle traded 76 to Pittsburgh), and new Seahawks LB Jacob Martin for Louisville CB Jaire Alexander, capital to deal up (they paired 147 with the 101st pick) for Vanderbilt LB Oren Burks, Southeastern Missouri State OLB Kndeall Donnerson, and the future 1.
In the end, Gutekunst was plenty happy with what became of it.
“Oh yeah,” he said from his office on Tuesday afternoon. “We were (picking) a lot higher than we have been in most of the recent past here. And I certainly wasn’t thinking much about moving back. But when the opportunity presented itself with the 1 and the 5, and feeling like we’d be able to get to the point where we could take the guy we were going to take anyway, it made sense.”
But as Gutekunst hinted there, things very easily could’ve gone in another direction. In fact, during the days leading up to the draft, the Packers were a little more interested in moving up than they were moving down.
Green Bay went in with two clusters of players. One was made up of a handful of names they’d consider dealing up for. The other was comprised of a half-dozen players who would be considered values at 14. And Gutekunst, thanks to experience he gained under Thompson, had a good gauge on what the price of moving up and down would be Thursday.
Over the last six years, Gutekunst and Eliot Wolf (now the Browns assistant GM) were tasked by Thompson with working the phones in the weeks leading up to the draft, and would present the GM with resulting ideas for moving up and down. That gave Gutekunst good grounding in working the market, as he eased college director Jon-Eric Sullivan and pro director John Wojciechowski into the “caller” roles.
Gutekunst talked to the Saints during the week, and the conversation got more serious with two calls Thursday, with New Orleans asking what it would take to get to 14. But for the deal to come together, two things would need to happen. First, the players from the Packers’ first cluster would have to be gone, with any trade-up attempts having failed. Second, Davenport would have to be there.
“Once (the top-tier players) were gone, then we had a handful of players with the value that we’d take at 14,” Gutekunst says. “And when we moved back, we knew if we wanted to get one of those players, we’d probably have to move back up. That’s what drove that decision. If we can get back into that area where there are these same kind of players, then we will.”
The instant the Packers came off the clock, the calls started—to every team down to the 22nd pick, which is about where Gutekunst figured Green Bay’s second cluster would be gone. The Bills beat out the Packers for the 16th pick, and Derwin James falling to the Chargers meant Los Angeles had no interest in moving 17. That left Seattle, and motivated-to-move GM John Schneider, a former Gutekunst co-worker.
And even though Gutekunst was ahead of Schneider in the draft order earlier in the week, the two had talked conceptually of Seattle’s desire to move down, since they didn’t have second or third-round picks. So that groundwork was in place, and with Alexander—who would’ve been a consideration at 14, had they stuck—there for the taking, the Packers were ready to go back up. They just had to work out the price.
“You go through all those things, look at all the historical data that tells you what that kind of trade would garner,” Gutekunst said. “One of our analytical guys, I just turned to him and said, ‘What do you think we need to do to get back into this range?’ He gives me that, and that’s where we go from. And obviously if there’s teams that don’t have as many picks in that area, they’re probably more willing.”
Earlier in the offseason, the Packers telegraphed their need for corners to play in new coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense with the offer sheet tendered to Chicago’s Kyle Fuller. As it turned out, they came away with two—Alexander and Iowa’s Josh Jackson, a pick that was possible because Gutekunst was able to emerge from his trade back up with the team’s second-round pick. And they have two first-round picks in ’19.
With the smoke clear now, Gutekunst says his ability to pull that off was, in large part, thanks to the good luck he had to work with guys he knew well, like Sullivan and Wojciechowski, which is a luxury that few first-year GMs get. That allowed for a smooth working operation that could adjust on the fly when trading up came off the table at 14, and then went back on the table at 27.
And it also was nice to have Thompson alongside, who offered his protégé three words after the Alexander pick was made: “Nice job, kid.”
“If you know him, he’s kinda understated,” Gutekunst says. “So that meant a lot.”