The Cardinals are becoming a trendy pick to make the playoffs in 2020.
A year ago, that would have been hard to believe.
Kyler Murray has shifted perception in the desert. The young quarterback is threatening to become the NFL's next breakout star. In hindsight, taking him No. 1 overall in the 2019 draft was a no-brainer, but at the time, it was a divisive decision.
Josh Rosen was entering his second season, and despite a subpar rookie campaign, still held promise as a former top-10 pick. Would the Cardinals really pull the plug on their 2018 first-round quarterback that quickly?
This oral history chronicles the three-and-a-half months leading up to the Cardinals' draft-day selection. Interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
The Cardinals finished with the worst record in the NFL in 2018, resulting in the dismissal of coach Steve Wilks after a year on the job. On Jan. 8, 2019, Kliff Kingsbury was hired to breathe life into a lackluster offense — one still widely expected to have Rosen at the helm.
Michael Bidwill, Cardinals owner: We were basically dealing with a lot of big problems. At the end of 2018, it was: Are we going to make a change at head coach? What are the other big issues? We were sort of fighting the biggest fires first.
Steve Keim, Cardinals general manager: When Michael and I talked about it philosophically, the way we approached it was, we're going to find an offensive head coach who is a playcaller and match them with a quarterback of the future.
Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals coach: I knew why they hired me. That was to improve an offense. They felt like they had a franchise quarterback in place, and trying to help develop him, that was my job and that's what I was working on.
Michael Bidwill: I think there was a perception outside the organization that coach Kingsbury came in here lobbying. Absolutely not. From the very beginning, he knew the deal was that Josh Rosen was going to be our quarterback. This wasn't like a package deal, where if you're going to hire me, wink-wink, we're going to draft Kyler. No. We were very clear. We're sticking with Josh, because we didn't want to raise the expectation that that was going to happen. The scouts had not gone through their process. If you ask Coach, who did he want to take and why? He would tell you, but he never once lobbied.
Steve Keim: We knew that he had a relationship with Kyler, but he trusted the process throughout the spring. He never tried to pound the table and say, 'We need this guy.' He respected everybody's opinion.
Kliff Kingsbury: I take a lot of pride in coaching that position, developing that position. I love that aspect of it. So I was excited to work with Josh. I still think Josh has a tremendous skillset and has a chance to be a great quarterback in this league.
On Jan. 9, a day after Kingsbury's hire, speculation about a pairing with Murray began. The previous October, while the coach of Texas Tech, Kingsbury said he would take the then-Oklahoma quarterback No. 1 overall in the draft if he could. Incredibly, it was now a possibility.
Kliff Kingsbury: I'm big on manifesting things, but that was a little much. That was kind of a glitch in the matrix.
Christian Kirk, Cardinals receiver: People kind of took that and ran with it. It was just weird because we had just drafted Josh, and you'd never really seen a team take a QB at 10 and the next year take another one at 1. So it was kind of like, 'Oh, there's no way. I mean, we'd love to have him, but there's no way.'
Kevin Murray, Kyler's father: Kliff has had a real fascination with Kyler. I've known that for years. He respected his game, respected him as a person -- but that doesn't translate to him taking the kid as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
While the dots were already being connected, Murray wasn't yet a lock to play professional football. The Oakland Athletics drafted him No. 9 overall in the 2018 MLB draft and gave him a $4.6 million signing bonus contingent on pursuing baseball. On Jan. 14, Murray declared for the NFL draft but kept both options open while evaluating his football stock.
Kyler Murray, Cardinals quarterback: When I declared, they had the mock drafts coming out probably every other day. I think I was sitting around, like, 32. Five-foot-10 quarterbacks don't really go that high, and at the time, they didn't even really know how tall I was. They were always questioning it. I thought anywhere as low as second round to end of the first, or something like that. Realistically, I thought that was kind of where it was headed.
Kevin Murray: I knew after his senior season at Oklahoma, after he won the Heisman, that there was a real good possibility he'd be in the first round.
Missy Murray, Kyler's mother: Everybody kept asking him, which one is it? Which one are you going to choose?
Kliff Kingsbury: I felt like football was where his heart was at. I'd known him a long time, known his dad a long time, and I felt like he wanted to continue that run, once he realized it was a real possibility to be a top pick and be the face of a franchise.
On Feb. 11, Murray officially pledged his future to football.
Erik Burkhardt, Murray and Kingsbury's agent: I was recruiting him, but baseball was always a big question. I didn't even know Kyler was going to play football until literally when I signed him.
Kyler Murray: The mock drafts had me at 13 to the Dolphins. Something like that. It was a first- or second-round kind of deal, and as a kid you're not going to want to go third- or fourth-round in the NFL draft when you got picked in the first round of the MLB draft. So that was kind of the thought. But at the same time, I knew it would kill me to not give my all to football when the opportunity was there. That's what I've been wanting to do my whole life. At the end of the day, my love for the game just kind of trumped it all.
Erik Burkhardt: Together we drafted his statement that he was all in on football. Then people were like, 'Oh, (expletive), Kyler just signed with Kliff's agent. They have the first pick. Is that a possibility?' That got a lot of run. I remember thinking, 'Oh, wow, people are really trying to piece this together.'
On Feb. 12, a day after Murray chose the NFL, Kingsbury met with the media in Arizona. Asked about the prospect of drafting Murray, Kingsbury attempted to quiet the chatter by complimenting Rosen. "Our feelings toward Josh haven't waned or changed," Kingsbury said. "Josh is our guy." Many saw it as pre-draft subterfuge.
Kevin Murray: Believe very little of what you hear.
Chase Edmonds, Cardinals running back: Honestly, when I read that, knowing what I know about the business, I didn't buy it. Because knowing Kliff's offense and knowing the personnel you need for the offense, it wouldn't have made logical football sense to say Josh is our guy when in fact Kyler was the better fit for the scheme. If it would have come from the GM, I would have bought more into it.
Kingsbury maintains the Cardinals were still early in the evaluation process.
Kliff Kingsbury: We weren't anywhere close to a decision at this point. This league, as everybody knows, is day-to-day anyway. I know that got some run, but that wasn't some sort of smokescreen. That was just the situation we were in.
Erik Burkhardt: Kyler and I didn't want him to go to a place where it wasn't unanimous, and I didn't want that for Kliff, either. I didn't want Kliff to want him, but the GM and owner not feel great about it. If we didn't have their support, Kliff and Kyler were both going to fail. You want the owner to feel great about his No. 1 overall pick, much less his quarterback.
On Feb. 27, Keim was asked about Rosen at the NFL Scouting combine, and his answer made waves. "Is Josh Rosen our quarterback?" Keim said. "Yeah, he is right now, for sure." That extra two-word qualifier pushed the Murray conjecture into overdrive.