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Balzer: Guessing about NFL Draft nearly over; criticism of Cardinals' Oklahoma trip was silly

Howard Balzer Avatar
April 27, 2023

The best thing about the first round of the NFL Draft being over tonight for Cardinals and NFL fans is that there will be no more mock drafts for a while, or breathless reports about betting odds for when players will be selected. We will all be able to get the smoke out of our eyes that has built up over the past few months.

Don’t get me wrong. The constant speculation and talking points are great for media and PHNX podcasters. Bo Brack and Johnny Venerable have been all over the always-changing headlines that have highlighted the process this year. Surely it helps that the Cardinals have the third selection in the first round while opinions are all over the place regarding where the top quarterbacks will be drafted. It creates a high level of intrigue for the opening of the draft.

Of course, the reality is that no one actually knows how individual teams evaluate the top prospects. We do know that it’s fall-in-love-with-a quarterback time, and the desperate need to have one often drives teams to make suspect decisions, especially when it comes to packaging other picks to move up.

That has already happened with Carolina sending a bounty to the Bears for the first overall choice. It’s fair to say the Cardinals hope something similar occurs when they are on the clock after the first two picks later today.

Last week, Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort was asked how he evaluates the quarterbacks in this draft and how that impacts what deals might be there to be made.

“I can’t see the boards of 31 other teams,” he said. “Everybody’s going to have different takes on that. It’s a little bit of an unknown as is with everything about the draft. We can sit up here and try to predict what’s going to happen, but in reality, nobody really knows. The quarterbacks are always a big part of that, so I think we’ve all got to kind of just wait and see what happens come Thursday night.”

In reality, nobody really knows.

Always remember that. Y

et, with gambling now pervasive, people will bet on where players might be drafted based on agenda-driven headlines and mock drafts. The best thing that can be said about mock drafts is that most are a mockery. But everyone loves them.

Asked about forecasting how the draft will unfold, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said, “It’s hard. I mean, I try, but if I did a mock draft, there’s nothing saying that mine would know more than yours, to be honest with you. I don’t know what other people are going to do. Everyone thinks they do, but I just don’t know.

“Nobody gives out information, so you make educated guesses based on where their roster is, where their depth charts are, the style of players they like, the schemes they play. In the end, it’s hard to tell. I still go through the whole process trying to figure it out.”

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman agreed.

“Nobody has any idea what we’re going to do,” he said. “I know that. And so for me to think that there’s actually people in this league talking to people and saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to draft this guy at 10, but don’t tell anyone,’ this is a huge game of poker, and all you want to affect is the outcome of your desired results. I think the reality of it is anyone who’s sitting there and saying, ‘Hey, I know exactly what’s going to happen at pick 11 or pick 12 or pick 6 or 20; it’s all a guess.

“I promise you, when we come here next Thursday night late and [Coach] Nick [Sirianni] walks in and says something like, ‘fire up’ or yells at all you guys like he yells at me sometimes, in a positive way, you guys will have probably five or six times when the commissioner announces a pick go, ‘Whoa,’ because at the end of the day everyone sees things differently. Just like everyone sees people differently, just like everyone sees food differently. The things that we’re seeing that we think are so clear and so transparent to another team are totally opposite.”

The Colts are scheduled to pick fourth, one spot after the Cardinals, and when asked if he has any knowledge about what will happen in front of them, general manager Chris Ballard said, “No. No idea, and I don’t think anybody does. Everybody thinks they do. I mean, of course everybody thinks they do, and everybody has an inside source who is giving them information of what’s going to be done. Just look at the mock drafts and tell me how accurate they are after the draft. Nobody knows. Nobody is giving out information.”

He added, “Everybody is lying. I just always love to read the reports that, ‘The Colts love this guy, and they’re dialed in on this guy.’ Like, who’d that come from? It didn’t come from me. Who’s it coming from? Who’s telling them who we love and who we don’t love? They don’t know.”

Will the Cardinals pick at No. 3 or trade down? Breaking news: Yes. One of those things will happen. Lock that in. (Of course, perhaps they will trade up, but that appears out of the question.) However, whom they will pick or trade with is a mystery. We can guess, but that’s all it is.

And yet, when betting lines change, there are claims that it means something when it only reflects what people are wagering. It’s not out of the question that another team will trade with Houston, sitting with the No. 2 pick. It wouldn’t be surprising for the Cardinals to trade down more than once, acquiring as many choices as possible while eventually adding a top-rated player.

We will know at some point later today and then the conversation will shift to instant analysis, which in many cases will also be proven wrong somewhere down the road.

The statue of Cardinals quarterback Kyle Murray in Oklahoma
A statue of Kyler Murray is unveiled before a spring scrimmage game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman Okla. on April 22. (USA TODAY Sports)

Murray, Cardinals criticism much ado about nothing

The Cardinals have made enough moves in recent years that warrant criticism. However, the notion that Ossenfort and Co. compromised their draft preparation by traveling to Norman, Oklahoma last Saturday for the unveiling of a Kyler Murray statue at the University of Oklahoma’s Heisman park is beyond absurd.

On a slow NFL news day, ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio apparently needed to find something to take an issue with and that was what he landed on.

He wrote, “While I’ll generally defer to the personal time-management decisions made by those who have been hired to handle the most important jobs for a pro football organization, perception can become reality — especially at a time when the reality isn’t good. Given the massive rebuild the Cardinals are facing, Ossenfort and (coach Jonathan) Gannon skipping town for a trip to Norman doesn’t create the best perception as to whether they’re doing everything they possibly can to make the best possible decisions as they prepare to use or trade the eight picks the Cardinals have in the 2023 draft, starting with No. 3 overall.”

The take backfired because that perceived perception wasn’t how the majority of people reacted, including former NFL player Chris Simms, his partner on the ProFootballTalk daily show.

When criticism of his take was immediate, the ProFootballTalk Twitter account said, “If you truly think the best coaches and General Managers in the NFL didn’t spend all day Saturday getting ready for the draft with minimal or no distractions, you don’t know how the NFL operates.”

In another tweet, it said, “If your favorite team finds itself among the most dysfunctional franchises in the NFL, do you demand better from the team — or do you circle the wagons and attack anyone who points out that things aren’t going very well?”

That obviously wasn’t the issue. Many have openly questioned the latter. It was just that the quick trip to Norman five days before the draft wasn’t the best hill to die on. He also accused the Cardinals of “sucking up” to Murray and noted that the quarterback was “smiling, happy, loose” when he was a part of the team’s uniform unveiling last Thursday.

“It’s almost as if he forgot about the fact that his timeline for 2023 is decidedly undecided, and that the team has plummeted to the depths of the league after starting the 2021 season with a 10-2 record.”

So what? Murray is supposed to be at a team event and act sullen and disinterested? Makes a lot of sense. Imagine the criticism had he done that.

When Simms told Florio he had talked to teams that worked very little over the weekend, Florio simply said he talked to different teams. Never mind that several NFL coaches were at NBA or NHL games over the weekend.

Florio also visited ArizonaSports 98.7 Monday and said, “Maybe it’s generational, maybe I’m just talking to the older guard, but some people I talked to were happy that this happened because it’s all one big competition. And the people who were locked in all weekend long looking at fifth-round, sixth-round, seventh-round prospects and studying film … they just kind of smile and nod when they hear something like this because it’s all about the commitment you’re willing to put in.”

Really? Other were teams “locked in all weekend long looking at fifth-round, sixth-round, seventh-round prospects and studying film.” Wow. As if all that hadn’t been done already.

As Ossenfort said last Friday, “I would say our board is 95 percent done and really, it’s probably even closer to 100 percent. Now at this point is actually when we are going to turn our attention to some of those mock drafts and just take a look at them and start walking through some scenarios that may or may not happen. Some of those mock drafts are accurate, some of them are crazy, but in all honesty, the crazy ones might turn out to be right. We don’t know.

“I think really the draft is just like in a game; it’s about reacting to what happens because we do not know what’s going to happen. It’s fun to consider and the mocks help us with some of those scenarios like, ‘Oh man, I didn’t consider that. Well, it might happen, so if that happens then we’ll do this.’ They help us in that process.”

One reality is that Ossenfort was the only person in the personnel department that made the trip. The other is that, quite simply, flying to Norman on owner Michael Bidwill’s plane was showing support for the quarterback they are just getting to know. The horrors!

So it was that Wednesday after the team’s second minicamp practice, Gannon was asked about the trip. “It was awesome,” he said. “That doesn’t typically happen where you’re a part of a team that has a player on your team that’s honored like that. I mean, the guy’s got a statue up on a huge college campus, so it was a special thing for us to go and see that happen. I thank Michael because he made that happen because it’s not just like a 20-minute drive. But we were up and back, it was good. Got to work when we got back and it was a neat experience to see that.”

As for those that would take issue with it, Gannon said, “I’m not really worried about people’s opinions. The peoples’ opinions I’m worried about are the people in here.”

To that end, he was then asked about the importance of supporting Murray and said, “I think our players know already and we’ll continue to build that trust with them, but everything we do we have the players in mind and anything that we can do to support them and help them and educate ‘em and be in their corner, that’s what we’re gonna do.”

It doesn’t mean the Cardinals will nail every pick in the draft or that every decision will turn out to be the right one. However, anything that might go wrong will have nothing to do with an April trip to Oklahoma.

Gannon did provide the latest update on Murray’s rehab work, saying,

“He’s moving along well. I think that he made a good progression this last week and I’m excited where he’s at. I know he’s champing at the bit. That’s what I’m going to say to you guys until he suits up and plays. This guy wants to be out there right now, but he’s got to go through the necessary steps to make sure that he’s mentally and physically healthy, ready to go.”

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter or email me: howard@gophnx.com

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