National Football League
Trading No. 3 overall pick key for Cardinals to jumpstart roster rebuild
National Football League

Trading No. 3 overall pick key for Cardinals to jumpstart roster rebuild

Published Apr. 24, 2023 2:04 p.m. ET

During last week's pre-draft press conference, a reporter asked Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort about the importance of finding at least three starters to set the foundation of the team's rebuilding effort.

New head coach Jonathan Gannon wasn't pleased with the word "rebuild."

"I just cringed when you said that word," Gannon told the reporter. "Our sole focus is to win football games. And our thought process is what we can do on a daily basis. Whether it's through the acquisition process or what we're doing with our players right now, our sole focus is to win football games. So that's what we're doing." 

Well, sometimes it's tough to face hard truths. Just ask NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who did not mince words when addressing the state of Arizona's roster leading into this week's draft. 

"I don't want to be overly harsh, but in my opinion I think they have the worst roster in the league right now," Jeremiah said last week. "I think it makes a lot of sense for them to try and get as many assets as possible this year and next year, just accumulate as many picks as you possibly can. That makes all the sense in the world for them."

Because of Arizona's last-place finish in the NFC West at 4-13 that resulted in the firing of head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the departure of general manager Steve Keim, the Cardinals hold the No. 3 overall selection in this year's draft. They have eight picks overall — one selection in rounds one, two, four and five and two picks in rounds three and six. 

RELATED: Cardinals land Will Anderson Jr., Heisman finalist in seven-round mock draft

The Cardinals landed the face of their franchise the last time they held the No. 3 pick. In 2004, they selected future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald with the No. 3 overall selection. They would be fortunate to get another difference-maker of his caliber this year at No. 3.

However, Ossenfort and Gannon need as many bites at the apple as possible in this year's draft in order to add talented players. The team's best players on both sides of the ball — WR DeAndre Hopkins and safety Budda Baker — are interested in playing elsewhere. Future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt, last year's sack leader, has retired. Franchise quarterback Kyler Murray is rehabbing from ACL knee surgery and likely will not be available at the start of the regular season.

"We're trying to get as many good players and good people on the team as possible," Ossenfort said. "This is a big opportunity to add talent to our team, to add the right type of people that fit our team from both a talent and culture standpoint."

According to reports, at least six teams have inquired with the Cardinals about trading for the No. 3 overall selection. Gannon said the number of teams calling Arizona about the team's first-round selection is in the double digits. 

FOX Sports NFL reporters Carmen Vitali and David Helman discuss whether the Cardinals will trade the No. 3 overall pick for additional draft capital.

Ossenfort reiterated last week that all options are on the table. 

"I think with any trade coming up, there's got to be opportunity, right?" Ossenfort said. "It takes two teams to make a trade. So that's the first thing. And I think that's something we're going to really dive into [this] week. If the phone does ring and someone shows interest, we're going to have to weigh that. It's a give and take. 

"Is there a player that we want to take there? There obviously is. There's only two players that are going to be drafted ahead of where we pick. And so we have to weigh that versus if there is an offer and what exactly that offer is." 

Ossenfort went on to say that he has had trade discussions as far back as the combine and things have started to pick up as they have moved closer to the draft. He expects that to continue. 

Only once in the organization's history has Arizona held a top-five pick and traded down. That occurred in 1998, when the Indianapolis Colts took Peyton Manning with the No. 1 overall selection and the Cardinals traded the No. 2 selection to the then-San Diego Chargers, who traded up from No. 3 to select Ryan Leaf at No. 2. 

We know how that turned out for the Bolts. 

The Cardinals got a second-round selection in the 1998 draft, a first-round selection in the 1999 draft and returner Eric Metcalf from the Chargers for moving down just one pick. Arizona took defensive lineman Andre Wadsworth in the first round in 1998, but his career fizzled due to knee injuries. The Cardinals selected cornerback Corey Chavous in the second round and receiver David Boston in the first round the following year. 

The Cardinals finished 9-7 and made the playoffs in 1998 but then endured eight straight losing seasons before Ken Whisenhunt took over the team in 2007. Arizona went to the Super Bowl a year later.

Quarterbacks will again dictate whether a team wants to trade up with the Cardinals. It's possible that four quarterbacks could go in the top four selections for the first time in NFL history. 

That means the Cardinals could drop down, get extra draft capital and still select one of the top defensive players in the draft for Gannon, the former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator, to start creating a dominant defense in the desert.

"If the Colts offered a third-round pick to move up one spot, if you don't have any other offers, if that's the only offer that you had and you're Arizona, you would be a fool not to take it," Jeremiah said. "You're going to get the same player you're going to take at three. You're going to get the same exact guy at four. It will come down to whether or not they have other offers in the mix.

"The Colts, I think they have proven that they're kind of willing to play the slow game here. Maybe they wait until the very end, and maybe that's just to guarantee you get your guys and you sleep a little better at night if you do that deal."

David Helman and Carmen Vitali discuss what the Colts should do with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

One added benefit for the Cardinals is that Gannon previously worked as a scout for the Rams for three seasons. 

"It's helped a lot," Ossenfort said. "He understands a way of looking at players. It's something that he's continued to develop through his coaching career, but it's a unique perspective. Jonathan knows what we ask our scouts to do and what their job is. So I think that brings a unique perspective and appreciation for what the guys on our side of the office do." 

Cardinals draft picks

Round 1 (3)
Round 2 (34)
Round 3 (66)
Round 3 (96)
Round 4 (105)
Round 5 (168)
Round 6 (180)
Round 6 (213)

Cardinals draft needs

Edge rusher: The Cardinals lost their top two pass rushers from last year in J.J. Watt (retirement) and Zach Allen (signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency). Gannon could use an elite athlete off the edge to rush the passer.

Cornerback: Arizona lost starting corner Byron Murphy to the Minnesota Vikings in free agency and could use a lanky cover guy on the perimeter to deal with the big-bodied receivers in the NFC West.

Offensive line: The Cardinals need to figure out how to better protect Murray so he can stay healthy. Arizona allowed 46 sacks in 2022, tied for No. 24 in the league. Arizona played 10 different offensive line combinations last season.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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