The NFL Draft is an event of hope and optimism, a struggling team can turn into perennial Super Bowl favorites in the NFL odds, and it all starts with the quarterback. The NFL QB might be the most challenging position in sports. Teams will try for years to draft a franchise quarterback.
Sometimes it comes in the first round, or even in the sixth round, in the case of Tom Brady. In this series, we will look at the QB draft history of the Arizona Cardinals in the 21st century and see how the pick’s career in the NFL turned out.
Arizona has been one of the worst teams in the NFL over the past two decades. Since 2000, they have only made the playoffs four times.
They did reach Super Bowl XLIII but lost a tough one against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cardinals have drafted two big-time college prospects, one was a bust, and the other is yet to be determined.
The team was most successful when led by a veteran free agent Kurt Warner from 2005-2009 and then Carson Palmer, from 2013-2017.
Over the years, Arizona has tried to cultivate a franchise quarterback through the draft and, while they might have one in Kyler Murray, it has not led to an NFL playoff win.
Josh McCown (2002)
The Cardinals selected Sam Houston State QB Josh McCown in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft. Known for being the ultimate journeyman quarterback, McCown has played for 12 different NFL teams in his career.
Although he was the backup QB for his rookie season, McCown finally got his chance to start in the last three games of the 2003 season. Arizona went 1-2, and the QB threw for 670 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
McCown entered the 2004 season as the Cardinals’ starter, but after a 4-5 start, he was benched for Shaun King. McCown regained the starting job at the end of the season and went 2-2 in the final four games.
McCown’s 13 starts in 2004 were his most in any season. He matched it in 2017 when he started 13 games for the New York Jets. Stayed with Arizona as a backup until 2006, when the Detroit Lions signed McCown to a two-year contract, but McCown was traded to the Oakland Raiders in 2007.
He started nine games for Oakland, going 2-7, with ten touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
The Miami Dolphins signed McCown to a two-year contract in 2008, but he was traded to the Carolina Panthers a week before the regular season. McCown never started a game for the Panthers.
After spending 2010 with the Hartford Colonials in the United Football League, McCown was signed and released by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, then signed by the Chicago Bears, where he stayed until 2013. Despite being 34-years-old, McCown started the majority of his NFL games in the last half of his career.
Between 2013-2018, McCown started 43 games with a record of 10-33.
In November 2020, while on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad, McCown was signed by the Houston Texans. In the offseason, McCown interviewed for the Texans’ head coach position.
McCown has not formally retired heading into the 2021 season. He has started 76 games with a record of 23-54, throwing 17,731 yards, 98 touchdowns, and 82 interceptions.
Matt Leinart (2006)
One of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history is also one of the biggest draft busts in NFL History.
The Cardinals selected USC QB Matt Leinart with the tenth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft despite having QB Kurt Warner already signed since 2005. Warner did not play well in his first year with Arizona, thus prompting the selection of Leinart.
In what would be a foreboding moment for the franchise, Leinart did not sign quickly and was the last drafted NFL rookie to sign a contract. On Aug. 14, he signed a six-year, $51 million deal despite entering the 2006 NFL regular season as a backup.
Warner was benched due to poor play, and the former Trojan made his NFL debut in NFL Week 4 and ended up starting 11 games in 2006. He then suffered a shoulder injury in NFL Week 16 and missed the season finale.
Leinhart finished his rookie season with a 4-7 record, completing 57 percent of his passes for 2,547 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.
Leinart opened the 2007 NFL regular season as the Arizona starter, with Warner coming in as a situational quarterback. In NFL Week 5, Leinart was sacked, his collar bone was broken, and the young QB was out for the season.
It was the second-straight season-ending injury for Leinart, and both occurred while being sacked. Warner took over and the rest was NFL history.
Leinart was the backup until Warner’s retirement in 2009. Entering 2010, Leinart was the presumed starter but lost the job to Derek Anderson and was cut before the regular season. The Houston Texans signed Leinart to a one-year contract as a backup to Matt Schaub.
He re-signed with Houston in 2011, getting named the starter after a Schaub injury. Again he would fracture his collarbone and miss the remainder of the NFL regular season. That would end up being Leinart’s last NFL start.
The Oakland Raiders signed Leinart in 2012 to be the backup for Carson Palmer. He signed with the Buffalo Bills in 2013 but was released before the NFL regular season. When the Cardinals drafted Leinart, he was expected to help their Super Bowl odds, but the injury-plagued QB could never start an entire NFL season.
John Skelton (2010)
Following the retirement of Kurt Warner in 2010, the Cardinals looked for QB depth by selecting Fordham University’s John Skelton in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
The deep round draft pick won the same amount of games as Arizona’s 2016 tenth overall pick, Matt Leinart, a grand total of eight wins.
After sitting for most of the 2010 NFL regular season, Skelton started the final four games and threw for 617 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. The QB finished the year with a 2-2 record.
Skelton returned to a backup role in 2011, but after a mid-season injury to starting QB Kevin Kolb, he started the final six games for the Cardinals and put up some decent stats. Arizona went 5-2, and Skelton threw for 1,631 yards with eight touchdowns, but his 12 interceptions were somewhat of a concern.
Skelton entered the 2012 season as the Arizona starter but suffered an ankle injury in NFL Week 1.
He returned from his injury but was benched because of poor play and never started another game in the National Football League.
The Cardinals released Skelton in 2013, and he was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Bengals but was released in August. He continued his tumultuous 2013 season when he was signed and released by the San Francisco 49ers and then the Tennessee Titans.
Skelton attempted to make a comeback by signing in the Canadian Football League but was released by the Montreal Alouettes in May 2015.
Josh Rosen (2018)
Arizona had the tenth overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, and once again, the choice did not end well for the franchise.
The Cardinals selected UCLA QB Josh Rosen. He began the season as the backup to Mike Glennon, but after starting 0-3, Glennon was benched, and Rosen took over and started the final 13 games of the 2018 NFL regular season.
The rookie QB struggled, and Arizona went 3-10 during his time at the helm, with Rosen throwing 2,242 yards with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The young QB was also sacked 44 times.
The Cardinals drafted another quarterback the following year, and Rosen was traded to the Miami Dolphins for a 2019 second-round and a 2020 fifth-round NFL Draft pick. In Miami, Ryan Fitzpatrick was the 2019 starting quarterback when the NFL regular season began.
After an 0-2 start, Rosen took over the job, but he only started three games, losing all three and throwing just one touchdown to three interceptions.
Rosen was benched and, against Vegas odds, Fitzpatrick started in NFL Week 6 and remained the starter for the rest of the 2019 NFL regular season.
In 2020, the Dolphins drafted Tua Tagovailoa, releasing Rosen in September after being unable to find a suitable trade partner. A few days later, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Rosen to the practice squad, but he was never on the active roster.
Following injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens, the San Francisco 49ers signed Rosen off the Tampa Bay practice squad in December 2020. The third-year QB was active for the final two games of the 2020 NFL regular season but did not take a snap. Rosen signed a one-year contract extension with San Francisco in 2021.
Kyler Murray (2019)
With the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals looked to pair the new head coach with a dynamic young QB. Kingsbury had his eye on one player and one player only, chasing the youngster since the QB was in high school. Arizona selected University of Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray with the number one overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Murray was also a first-round pick in Major League Baseball’s Draft. The Oakland Athletics drafted Murray ninth overall in the 2018 MLB Draft while the pick was still playing college football for the Sooners. Murry decided to pursue the NFL route, and the decision has clearly paid off.
Murray started all 16 games his rookie season. The Cardinals went 5-11, but the future looked bright as the rookie QB played well and won the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Murray threw 3,722 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The mobile quarterback added 544 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. The NFL Super Bowl odds for the Cardinals rose in 2020, and Arizona was living up to expectations, going 6-3 to start the season.
The Cardinals were in prime position to make the playoffs, but a 2-5 finish in the final seven games of the season left Arizona out of the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
Murray improved his numbers in 2020, completing 67 percent of his passes for 3,971 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The second year QB added 819 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns to his total and was named to his first Pro Bowl.
2020 was a solid improvement for the Cardinals, but the disappointing way the NFL regular season ended raised questions about whether the Coach/QB combo would remain in Arizona. 2021 should be a make-or-break season for the Red Sea.
Selecting an NFL quarterback is one of the hardest things to do in sports, and the Cardinals are all too familiar with the struggles that the process entails. Matt Leinart and Josh Rosen were two draft picks with a lot of promise, but their NFL careers did not work out for different reasons.
Leinart unluckily suffered from multiple season-ending injuries, while Rosen’s skills did not translate to the NFL style of play. Arizona is hoping that the third time is the charm with Kyler Murray.
The Cardinals paired a rookie QB with a rookie NFL head coach, but the last two NFL seasons have seen improvements in the desert.
The online sportsbook still has Arizona as a middle-of-the-road team, with the team’s NFL playoff odds landing it on the outside looking in. The Cardinals have been an NFL leader of the more college-style offense, which is exciting to watch but has yet to translate into NFL postseason success.