The narrative has changed around Josh Rosen these days, saddling the Arizona Cardinals with all the blame. Rosen deserves his share, too.
The Arizona Cardinals might be uncomfortable with the heat they’re feeling these days, but it comes standard with their basement rental in the NFC West.
The franchise that controlled the 2019 NFL Draft did so because of another year of stumbling and fumbling at all levels. In fact, the entire team is a lesson in organizational mismanagement. From an owner who somehow refuses to fire a clearly failing general manager (think Jim Irsay’s commitment to Ryan Grigson in Indy a few years back) to that same GM recycling head coaches year after year, the Cardinals would be better off as an expansion team if that would allow the leadership to hit reset on all parties involved.
All of this would be true even if there wasn’t an even greater grievance at work in the last 10 days—a stretch of time in which general manager Steve Keim decided to take a quarterback with the first overall selection (Kyler Murray) just 12 months after he traded up to take another top 10 quarterback (Josh Rosen).
If there are any Cardinals fans left, they should be rethinking their loyalty to an organization whose compass points so far away from magnetic north that it feels impossible to trust them moving forward—even if they’ve struck gold with Murray.
But these columns have already been written. Raking the Cardinals over the proverbial coals is akin to writing about the popularity of Game of Thrones these days. What is surprising is that Rosen is somehow living a second life in 2019.
By moving three time zones away from the NFL’s biggest disaster of a franchise, Rosen has somehow freed himself from the “draft bust” narrative that plagued him over these last 12 months. One year is not nearly enough time to give a top 10 quarterback to succeed in the NFL (and the Cardinals are feeling the heat for giving up when they shouldn’t), but one year is also a full season of evidence—and it wasn’t good for Rosen.
When the Miami Dolphins traded a late second-round pick (No. 62 overall) and a 2020 fifth-round pick for Rosen, the move was immediately graded as a major win for the Fins. FanSided gave the trade an “A” for the Dolphins, and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports said Miami “fleeced” Arizona. Other outlets termed it a “huge win” for Miami and that it made “big winners” out of the Dolphins. You get the picture.
At this point, the narrative around Rosen is that he never even had a chance to succeed in Arizona. There is a lot of truth to support that story’s lede:
But again, these stories have been written. Rosen as the pitied player, Arizona Cardinals as failed franchise. Somewhere, in the midst of it all, we’ve also lost Rosen as accessory to the crime.
No franchise should ever make the sort of decisions that the Cards have made over the last 12 to 24 months, but it’s not as if the Cardinals shipped off a sure thing in Rosen. Even those declaring the trade such a huge win for Miami make sure to interject that Rosen is, at least, a competent and very cheap back-up with a chance to blossom into something given his change of scenery.
Last season, Josh Rosen went 3-10 as a starter for the Cards. He completed just over 55% of his passes and threw 11 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. His adjusted yards gained per passing attempt was an anemic 4.8 yards—exactly one half of Patrick Mahomes league-leading average of 9.6 yards. No other quarterback was below 5.0, with Josh Allen of Buffalo next at 5.4 yards/attempt. Rosen finished with a 66.7 passer rating (and a QBR of 26.6).
For all of the elements working against Rosen last year, other quarterbacks have at least fared slightly better given a similar situation. The Houston Texans allowed 10 more sacks than the Cardinals last year, but Deshaun Watson’s talents make up for Houston’s line deficiencies. The offensive lines for Washington and Buffalo mirrored Arizona’s poor overall rankings, but those quarterbacks (Alex Smith and Josh Rosen) were never ranked so low as Rosen. Even Smith’s replacement, Colt McCoy, finished 10 points higher in passer rating.
Taking in what every quarterback brings on the ground and through the air, Chris Trapasso’s stat of yards per dropback can measure everything a quarterback brings himself to the offense. Last year, Rosen averaged 4.5 yards/dropback—dead last in the NFL. Even Jeff Driskel averaged slightly better at 4.7 yards/dropback. For comparison, Andy Dalton and Eli Manning averaged 6.2.
We’ve already mentioned ESPN’s QBR rating for Rosen of 26.1 for the season. Ranked second to last is Ryan Tannehill at 35 and then Blake Bortles is next at 45.7. Even Josh Allen, a fellow first round rookie surrounded by his own question marks and tasked with succeeding in a not-so-competitive environment had a QBR of 52. In short, Rosen was the worst quarterback in the NFL last season and it wasn’t even close—even if you throw in some backups who got a decent amount of reps.
Other quarterbacks have endured horrible first seasons in the NFL and have gone on to great things. Most recently Jared Goff turned the page from a terrible rookie campaign to make it to the Super Bowl in year three. Peyton Manning had a worse record as a rookie starter, and Matt Stafford hardly looked the part in his first year, too. (Then again, maybe he’s a questionable example).
Yet our attempt to paint an inspirational poster for Rosen (“Hang in There” with a cat on a limb of a tree) is overshadowed by a much longer list of pretenders who couldn’t make the leap. We can all root for Rosen at this point—and this story deserves a happy ending—but the UCLA product is going to need much more than a change of scenery to live up to his draft billing. He’s going to need to own his share of the blame, too, and learn from his early mistakes.