INDIANAPOLIS — Those two words — so simple, yet so illuminating — hung in the air for all the world to hear.
And those two syllables — offered so casually, and so honestly — revealed everything the Arizona Cardinals have tried to deny.
Their new head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, had done a serviceable job of damage control Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine, reiterating his support of his inherited second-year quarterback, Josh Rosen. In an attempt to tamp the flames of speculation surrounding the Cardinals’ interest in drafting Oklahoma prospect Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick, Kingsbury reaffirmed his commitment to scheming his offense to fit his personnel. And he specifically mentioned Rosen, whom he credited for showing mental toughness during a trying rookie season.
A half hour later, however, his own general manager undercut his message and led many to believe that Murray, ultimately, will be Arizona-bound in April.
“Is Josh Rosen our quarterback? Yeah, he is, right now, for sure,” Steve Keim told reporters.
There it was.
The not-so-subtle reminder that the NFL is a game that takes place behind closed doors. A place where fortunes and franchises can change drastically and roster spots can be won and lost without warning.
Honesty is what the media craves. Fans, too.
So don’t question or fault Keim for his matter-of-factness or his lack of commitment to his former first-round pick. Competition at every position is preached ad nauseam in the NFL, a place where organizational interests shift at a moment’s notice.
A few months ago, Kingsbury didn’t even anticipate being a head coach in the league. Now, he’s an NFL neophyte who’s been gifted the top pick in the draft. He and Keim should explore all options that will improve the 2019 Cardinals. Murray included.
But at the very least, these two need to be on the same page. Behind closed doors. And, especially, in public.
Two words that carry so much weight. And so much uncertainty.
Especially for Rosen.
At a moment when the organization could have publicly expressed unwavering support for the former 10th overall pick, Keim only added to the intrigue surrounding the Cardinals’ plans for the No. 1 overall pick and Rosen’s future with the franchise.
Kingsbury said Rosen “knows where he stands with us.” Keim’s comments signaled otherwise.
“It’s still early in the process,” the GM said of potentially picking Murray. “We haven’t gone through our full evaluation at all the positions. So really it’s too early to say.”
A short time earlier, Kingsbury went to great lengths to compliment Rosen, who took over the reins of the Cardinals’ struggling offense in Week 4. While fellow first-year starters Patrick Mahomes (the league’s eventual Most Valuable Player) and Baker Mayfield were impressive, Rosen threw 14 interceptions (compared to only 11 touchdowns) and finished with 2,278 passing yards — third-most among rookies and 29th overall in the NFL.
“We’re big on adapting our offense to our quarterback and our personnel,” Kingsbury told reporters during his podium session. “We’ve had all types in this system. [Rosen is] a tremendous talent. I felt like he got better as the season went on last year. Showed a lot of mental toughness and competitiveness, and so I don’t think it’s a relevant argument.
“The talent is obviously there,” the first-year coach said, calling Rosen “very cerebral. And I just like the way he fought at the end of the year, facing adverse conditions, never turned it down, continued to get up, continued to fight and compete his tail off until the end.”
But even Kingsbury couldn’t help but gush over Murray. For good reason.
“The fascinating thing with Kyler is he is the quickest player on the field, at the quarterback position,” Kingsbury said on NFL Network on Wednesday about the Heisman Trophy winner. Back in October, while he was the head coach of Texas Tech, Kingsbury said he would take Murray No. 1 overall.
“His dad is a tremendous kind of quarterback guru in our state, in Texas, and he’s developed him to be a great pocket passer as well,” he added of Murray, who ultimately turned down a Major League Baseball opportunity with the Oakland A’s to play in the NFL. “You kind of combine those two things and it’s a lot to handle. He’s a tremendous talent. I’ve thought that since his high school days. Been a big fan, excited to see how this process goes for him.”
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