Early success a must for Kyler Murray to justify Cardinals' unnecessary gamble

Kyler Murray made history in the 2019 NFL Draft and the Cardinals’ decision to select him showed how quickly things can change in the NFL.

A few months ago when Murray was at the center of both the NFL and MLB worlds as he shifted focus away from a baseball career with the Oakland Athletics to making it as a quarterback in pro football, the emergence of a video from during Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury’s time in charge at Texas Tech — in which he said he would take Murray first overall if he owned that pick — appeared like nothing more than an innocuous way of drumming up intrigue around the seemingly unlikely prospect of him going in that position.

Despite the Cardinals initially responding to speculation of them taking Murray by insisting Josh Rosen, who they traded up to draft 10th overall in 2018, was their guy, the lack of further firm denials soon made it clear the opposite was true and that drafting Murray was in fact a very real possibility.

And it was a possibility that became a reality on Thursday as Murray’s transformation from baseball prospect to top NFL pick was completed, Arizona making him the first player to be drafted in the opening round of the MLB and NFL drafts in a move that will define Kingsbury’s tenure and the legacy of a general manager Steve Keim.

The decision to draft Murray can be seen as both an effort to help Kingsbury succeed by giving him a quarterback experienced in the “Air Raid” offense he runs and an attempt by a desperate general manager to save his job after seeing a team that reached the NFC Championship game in the 2015 season crumble and slump to a 3-13 campaign in 2018.

Yet the problem for the Cardinals is that in trying to achieve both those aims they passed on a pair of stellar defensive prospects in Nick Bosa and Quinnen Williams, who were regarded as the two best players in the draft.

Arizona will now see Bosa twice a year, having gift-wrapped a player it could have paired with two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Chandler Jones to division rivals San Francisco.

Should Murray fail to meet expectations and Bosa lives up to his lofty billing, the former Ohio State defensive end will serve as a painful reminder of the simpler path the Cardinals could have taken to substantially improving their team.

While San Francisco can bask in having landed the draft’s top pass rusher, the Cardinals remain greatly in need of help on the defensive line and must also deal with the headache of having a likely disgruntled Rosen on the roster, at least for the short term.

The party line will be that having two first-round players at the game’s most important position is a positive. However, deep down the Cardinals will know that Rosen is unlikely to have much interest in playing for a team that labeled him their future, only to replace him 12 months later.

Parting with Rosen may not be easy. Two potential suitors, the Giants and Redskins, selected quarterbacks in the first round, and by not trading him prior to taking Murray, any leverage the Cardinals may have had has now gone.

The Cardinals have nine more picks to try to fill a plethora of holes on both sides of the ball but must also face the prospect of accepting a cut-rate offer for a quarterback they moved up for last year, all to make a player they did not need the face of the team.

For this whirlwind turn of events to be justified, Murray must quickly produce the performances that saw him take college football by storm at the pro level. If he is unable to do so and spark a rapid turnaround in fortunes, then this will be a gamble Kingsbury and Keim will live to regret.