Josh Rosen’s NFL Future Depends on Him

Arizona’s apparent infatuation with Kyler Murray with the draft’s first pick puts last year’s first-round QB in a precarious spot. The former UCLA star needs to ask himself why the Cardinals might want to move on—and whether a trade to a place where he can learn leadership behind a veteran QB might be the best chance to salvage his young career.
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The fastest moving object in America is a quarterback shooting up draft boards. A few weeks ago, intelligent and informed people wondered if Kyler Murray would be a first-round pick. Now they wonder if Murray will go No. 1 overall, to a team, the Arizona Cardinals, that drafted quarterback Josh Rosen in the first round last year.

You remember Josh Rosen, don’t you? Someday he may look back on these few weeks as the most important of his football life. If Rosen reacts the right way, he could make the Hall of Fame. If he doesn’t, he could be out of football before he’s 30.

The scouting report on Rosen: He can do everything you want a quarterback to do, except act like a quarterback. Rosen can read the defenses, make the throws and take the hits. But can he lead a team?

Acting like a quarterback means that when a teammate pulls into the facility, determined to be the first one there, he sees your car. It means the in-his-prime star of the defense appreciates you, the veteran in his last season respects you and the 53rd guy on the roster thinks you care if he succeeds.

There is a whole skill set that Rosen does not have, probably for the simple reason that he never had to have it. He was both a child prodigy and a child of privilege, and the combination makes him a weird fit in a football locker room. That is an environment full of people who are determined to prove a point. Rosen tends to act like he has already proven it.

A year ago, Rosen went 10th in the draft and immediately declared, “Nine mistakes were made ahead of me. And I will make sure over the next decade or so that they will know that they made a mistake.” He later amended this to say that three mistakes were made ahead of him: The Browns drafting quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Jets drafting quarterback Sam Darnold, and the Bills drafting quarterback Josh Allen.

But those teams aren’t thinking about ditching their quarterback after a year. The Cardinals apparently are. Part of it is surely the allure of Murray, but Murray, as talented as he is, isn’t considered a sure thing like, say, Andrew Luck. There are legitimate questions about Murray.

So what does Rosen do now?

He could say the Cardinals are a mess of an organization that hired a guy, Kliff Kingsbury, who just got fired by Texas Tech. He could say that as a rookie he had to play for one of the NFL’s least talented teams, behind one of its worst offensive lines, for a coach, Steve Wilks, who got fired after one season. Rosen could say all that, and it would all be true. But then Rosen would not be telling himself the whole story.

Here is what he should do, and it can be hard for all of us: Look inward. Realize that those nine teams passed on him for reasons that went beyond his game tape. And recognize that what got him this far will not get him where he wants to go.

You never heard anybody say Tom Brady “needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn’t get bored,” but that’s what Rosen’s college coach, Jim Mora,said about him last year. Brady’s college career has been discussed many times, usually without context and often with a mangled set of facts. But Brady went 20-5 as a starter at Michigan and had the universal respect of his teammates. The questions about Brady were physical. Rosen had losing records in his last two years at UCLA. Statistically, most of that was the defense’s fault. But there is a sense that he was never the heart of the team, just an extremely gifted appendage.

In some ways, Rosen is reminiscent of Joey Harrington, who was a No. 3 overall pick but never commanded an NFL locker room. (Rosen is more talented, though.) In other ways, Rosen seems like Jay Cutler, who was so talented that teams tolerated his flaws for his whole career.

Rosen can be better than both. There is so much to like about him. But if the Cardinals are not enamored after nine months, what does that say? And is Rosen listening?

The best thing that could happen to Josh Rosen might be the one thing he surely dreads: a trade to a team that will make him sit behind a veteran quarterback next year. He needs a jolt, and he would benefit from getting rejected. Being passed over by nine teams on draft night is nothing compared to getting dumped a year after being chosen 10th overall.

Rosen needs to be shown, not just told, that the football world can take him or leave him. He needs what a lot of talented people need in their 20s: a hard moment when he has to figure out who he is, and who he wants to be.

Imagine putting him in a quarterback room with Tom Brady or Philip Rivers or Eli Manning. Imagine him seeing how they work, how they connect with teammates from different backgrounds, how they make a team believe in them (though in Manning’s case, it may be a few years too late for that).

Rosen would have two choices then. He could stew, convince himself he was wronged by the Cardinals, and do only the minimum work that is required of him because hey, he is only the backup anyway. Or he could learn to become the star he has always assumed he would be. Josh Rosen’s future is just as fascinating as Kyler Murray’s. If he wants, it can be just as bright, too.

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