Josh Rosen on the Cardinals, the Dolphins and the Draft Trade that Shook the NFL
Josh Rosen didn’t believe, really believe, it would happen until a few minutes before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stepped to the dais in front of an estimated 200,000 fans on Lower Broadway in Nashville and put Rosen’s Arizona Cardinals on the clock with the first overall selection in the 2019 draft. Cardinals management, linked for months to eventual No. 1 pick Kyler Murray, broke its silence in trade talks for Rosen in those moments before the draft, taking calls from the Giants, Washington and Miami. Word spread fast. Rosen’s agent, Ryan Williams, called to deliver the news to his client as Rosen sat and watched the draft in the $1 million Scottsdale condo he’d purchased in 2018. Then new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who only days earlier had tutored Rosen on the playbook he was bringing to the desert, called the quarterback to say the decision had been no reflection on his play. “We think the world of you,” Kingsbury told him. It’s not you, it’s me.
That Rosen had been team president Mike Bidwill and general manager Steve Keim’s 10th overall pick in 2018 mattered not. Goodell returned to the podium 15 minutes after putting the Cardinals on the clock and read the draft card: “With the first pick in the 2019 NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals select Kyler Murray, quarterback, Oklahoma.” Rosen had been through the draft only a year ago, and he’d seen the smoke screens and the subterfuge. He’d let himself think this might be one of those baseless draft rumors. Then it wasn’t.
“My heart really didn’t believe it was going to happen until a couple minutes before it happened,” Rosen told The MMQB two nights later. “Common sense sort of kicked in then, but my heart didn’t want to believe it.” After 13 starts, 2,278 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and three precious victories, the Cardinals made Rosen and Murray the first quarterbacks chosen by the same team in back-to-back first rounds since the Baltimore Colts took Art Schlichter in ’82 and John Elway in ’83.
Elway forced a trade to the Denver Broncos six days later and never shared a quarterback room with Schlichter. Rosen and his agent believed a trade would materialize much sooner this time around. Each of the QB-needy teams had ample draft capital to make a move, and there had been a general consensus that this 2019 class of quarterbacks wasn’t nearly as strong as the previous one, which in addition to Rosen included Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson—all first-rounders. Williams was sitting behind his desk in Athletes First’s modish Laguna Hills, Calif., offices watching the 49ers select former Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa with the second pick when Keim texted giving him permission to supplement Arizona’s efforts to find a trade destination for him. Then at 6 the Giants took former Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, and Keim asked Williams if the Patriots liked his client and might be open to making him the heir apparent to Tom Brady.
Williams was taken aback and grew angry. How did Keim not already know the answer? The whole world knew, or had a good idea, that the Cardinals were taking Murray on Thursday. Why the secrecy? Why are we negotiating trade terms now instead of weeks ago? Keim was saying all the right things: “If you want to talk to teams about value let me know,” he texted. “We want to do what’s best for Josh and also what’s best for the organization.” But Keim’s actions spoke louder. He wanted a first-round pick, and might be willing to settle for a second-rounder. A Washington executive, upon hearing that price, chuckled over the phone: “That’s really bold for someone who just took a QB.”
And if that bid failed? Keim told Williams he would keep both quarterbacks on the roster. The GM said the Cardinals had done a study showing that over the past three years, on average, fewer than half the starting QBs in the NFL had played all 16 games. Many teams had to rely on a backup for five or more games. Keim felt the two first-rounders could coexist and give Arizona the deepest QB room in pro football.
While agency staffers in the next room celebrated the selection of other clients with wine and pulls of Tito’s vodka, Williams called Rosen from his office with an update: The Cardinals might actually keep you. “If that’s their position,” Rosen told him, “then I’ll just beat him out and Kyler can be the backup.” Williams’ reply: “They don’t want that, and they know they don’t want that. We’re getting a trade done.”
Miami didn’t realize a possible solution for their QB room was available until 20 minutes into the draft, when the reports surfaced indicating that Rosen was being shopped by the Cardinals, Dolphins GM Chris Grier told The MMQB’s Albert Breer. After trading 2012 first-round pick Ryan Tannehill in March, 36-year-old journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been the assumed starter.
As the Dolphins emerged as frontrunners in the Rosen trade negotiations on Friday, the Miami media scrambled for information on the biggest name of the NFL draft’s second day. “I’ve talked to multiple people about Josh Rosen today,” tweeted Miami Herald veteran Armando Salguero. “The play is not what troubles. The person does.” It’s the type of nebulous assessment that has followed Rosen throughout his football career, inflamed by a handful of too-candid sound bytes in the eyes of evaluators and what was judged a tepid endorsement in spring 2018 from his UCLA coach, Jim Mora Jr. “He needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored. He’s a millennial. He wants to know why,” Mora said. “Josh has a lot of interests in life. If you can hold his concentration level and focus only on football for a few years, he will set the world on fire.”
Rosen says: “I don’t think you can go back to any team I ever played on and find someone who will say I was a bad teammate. All my teammates throughout my entire career in football had my back. I loved them, they loved me. I’ve never been uncoachable. I’ve been tough to coach because I’m hypercompetitive and always get to the bottom of things. I can be a prickly personality at times, but none of it’s ever malicious. I don’t think anyone who really knows me on a deep level thinks I’m a bad guy. I like to think I’m a good guy.”
Rosen resolved at the beginning of the 2019 draft process, when reports connecting Murray to the Cardinals surfaced, to take the high road. He showed up to work with the Cardinals—as recently as the day of the draft he was at offseason workouts—and began learning Kingsbury’s playbook, saying nothing in the media. When he unfollowed the Cardinals’ social media accounts on Thursday night after Murray was picked, people noticed. Former Panthers and Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, on NFL Network, slammed Rosen for supposedly not wanting to compete. Rosen laughed it off privately, telling a friend, “I wonder if I unfollow Parley for the Oceans [a climate change awareness group], that will bring the same kind of attention for their organization, and maybe we can save the planet.” He says he would have enjoyed competing for—and winning—the QB job in Arizona, but he believes Keim would never let it happen.
“I absolutely would have competed if they kept me, but I would’ve been kind of bummed about it because I knew I wouldn’t get a fair shake,” Rosen says. “A GM’s not going to draft a quarterback and draft another one the next year, higher, and then play the first one. It’s admitting you made two mistakes. It just wouldn’t happen. I wouldn’t hesitate to compete, but I would know pre-emptively I wouldn’t get a shot even if I won the competition.”
You might expect a quarterback whose prospects were thinning pick-by-pick during the NFL draft to shut down and go to a dark place, or stomp around his condo and boil—think Tom Brady in 2000, pacing hometown suburban streets with a baseball bat in hand as the final rounds march on. But that’s not Rosen. Miami had the 13th pick—surely enough to meet Keim’s price—but used it on defensive lineman Christian Wilkins. Then Washington took a QB, selecting Dwayne Haskins at No. 15. Trade talks cooled. On the phone with Rosen, Williams told him it looked like a deal would have to wait another day—if one were coming at all. “I’m fine,” Rosen said on the other end of the line. “It’s not like I’m some child soldier in Darfur. I’ve had it pretty good. I think it’s time I had some legitimate adversity handed to me.”
“I try to put everything into perspective,” Rosen tells The MMQB. “If I’m bummed I’m getting traded by the Arizona Cardinals, I try to think I’m living in an awesome condo in the middle of Scottsdale. I’m on a team, I have food on my table, a good family. Life could be a lot worse, so you count your blessings and try to put good energy out into the world.”
Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals’ future Hall of Famer, had given him perspective. They talked almost every day this offseason, and they huddled before the draft. Rosen wants to keep what was said in that moment private.
At the end of the first round, the Dolphins were the only team still clearly in the market for a starting quarterback. On Friday they held the 48th pick—but instead of using it for Rosen, they traded back, deeper into the second round, acquiring the 62nd pick from New Orleans, plus a 2019 sixth and a 2020 second (Miami bundled a 2019 fourth into the deal). The Cardinals and Dolphins finally settled on a deal: Miami sent Arizona its 62nd pick plus a 2020 fifth-rounder for Rosen. How Arizona went from bundling draft picks in 2018 and trading up for the 10th overall pick (Rosen) to a last-minute deal for the 62nd overall pick (in exchange for Rosen) is for the moment known only by the people in that Arizona war room. The Cardinals did not respond to requests for comment.
On Saturday, Rosen shot a video thanking the Cardinals staff and fans, and his teammates. He wished Kyler Murray good luck and promised a good deal on a condo in Scottsdale. He showed up at Larry Fitzgerald’s charity softball tournament and won the game’s MVP award and the home run derby, sending nine moonshots into a picturesque desert sky. Miami is an unknown: first-year head coach (Brian Flores) first-year offensive coordinator (Chris O’Shea), both from a Bill Belichick tree that has yet to bear fruit for the rest of the NFL. It might not have been Rosen’s first choice, but it wasn’t his last choice either.
It’s Groundhog Day for Josh Rosen: He’s a rookie again, with the benefit of experience. Looking back, he saw some opportunities to mentor other players in Arizona that he let slip. He wants to fix that. “There are little moments where you can step up and be a leader and help a guy,” he says.
“I think some people take this chance for granted and think it will last forever,” Rosen continues. “I got a little newsflash after Year One: You’ve really got to give it absolutely everything you’ve got every day, because this game is fleeting.”
This offseason SI TV embedded with Josh Rosen and friends for a road trip through the Southwest. To watch “24 Hours with Josh Rosen” in its entirety, plus the rest of the “24 Hours” series and more original SI programming, go to SI TV for a free seven-day trial.
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