The Arizona Cardinals exited the 2023 NFL Draft with nine new players, including first-round offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. But even more importantly, Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort moved up and down the board, setting up his club to dominate the 2024 NFL Draft.
The Arizona Cardinals Control the 2024 NFL Draft
The most important trait an NFL GM can possess is self-awareness, and Ossenfort is clearly cognizant of where the Cardinals are in their rebuilding process. With holes all over their roster and quarterback Kyler Murray expected to miss at least some time at the beginning of the season as he recovers from an ACL tear, Arizona is nowhere near competing in the short term.
With that in mind, Ossenfort wasn’t afraid to make moves in Round 1 of last weekend’s draft. First, the Cardinals traded the No. 3 overall pick to the Texans, allowing Houston to come up for Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. Arizona received a gargantuan haul, including pick Nos. 12 and 33 in 2023 and first-round and third-round selections in 2024.
After trading out of No. 3, the Cardinals then moved back up, acquiring the No. 6 and No. 81 choices from the Lions in exchange for pick Nos. 12, 34, and 168.
“When Houston made their pick at No. 2, it adjusted who was interested in coming up to No. 3,” Ossenfort said. “At that point, we were on the clock, and we were prepared to take a player and were weighing a couple options. The option with Houston presented itself for us to grab a high second-round pick and then to also grab a first and a third next year, which was really important and was not something that we set out to do.
“We were ready to pick a player, but the opportunity presented itself, and we dropped back to 12. When we were back to 12, we knew that these were scenarios that we walked through during the week and started investigating possibilities to climb back up.”
This series of transactions allowed the Cardinals to land Johnson, who they likely would have selected at No. 3 anyway. In the process, Arizona might have put itself in a position to hold the top two picks in the 2024 draft.
The Cardinals have the NFL’s lowest 2023 win total projection (4.5), according to DraftKings, while the Texans are tied for the second-lowest at 6.5. There’s a decent chance Arizona will hold two top-five selections next year, and it could be Nos. 1 and 2.
But that’s not all! The Cardinals made another trade at the top of the second round, allowing the Titans to move up for quarterback Will Levis. Arizona received pick Nos. 41, 72, and a 2024 third in exchange for pick Nos. 33 and 81.
The Cardinals also added a 2024 fifth-rounder in the odd punishment trade they were forced to make with the Eagles for tampering with Jonathan Gannon during the hiring cycle. And Arizona is projected to pick up a fourth-round compensatory selection next year after losing free agent Zach Allen to the Broncos.
All told, the Cardinals now own 11 picks in the 2024 draft, including two first-rounders and three third-rounders. If Arizona, Houston, and Tennessee all struggle next season (as is widely expected), the Cardinals could have six choices within the top-75 selections.
That swath of picks should allow Ossenfort to add premier players throughout Arizona’s roster. But it could also enable the Cardinals to make a move at the most important position in sports.
The Cardinals Could Replace Kyler Murray in the 2024 NFL Draft
Next year’s quarterback class has the potential to be historic, with USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye headlining an impressive crop of signal-callers. If the Cardinals secure the first or second pick in the 2024 draft (or want to use their ample ammunition to move up if they don’t), could Arizona move on from Murray?
The Cardinals just signed Murray to a five-year extension worth $230.5 million last July. But Ossenfort and Gannon had nothing to do with that decision. If owner Michael Bidwill allows his new regime to target a new quarterback, Arizona could potentially work out a Murray trade.
The dead money would be immense, at least in the short term. If the Cardinals moved Murray before next June 1, they’d take on $46.221 million in dead cap, the largest dead charge in NFL history. But that would still represent a cap savings of $5.636 million.
The more significant savings would be on the cash side. Murray has a $37 million base salary in 2024, and $35.3 million of that total is guaranteed. However, all of that money would transfer to Murray’s next team if he’s traded.
If Murray returns at some point in 2023 and shows at least something, even with a dearth of talent around him, the Cardinals would likely be able to find a market for him. Murray is a 25-year-old former No. 1 overall pick who looked like an MVP candidate as recently as 2021 — rival teams would almost assuredly be interested.
If Ossenfort can save money and acquire even more picks by trading Murray and drafting a first-round quarterback, and then have at least five more selections before the end of Day 2 in 2024, the Cardinals’ turnaround could happen a lot faster than anyone expects.