The 2018 Arizona Cardinals have an unfamiliar problem on their hands: one many teams would love to have. The Cardinals have two starting-caliber quarterbacks (sorry Mike Glennon, you are not one). Furthermore, they have two potential Pro Bowlers at the most important position in all of sports. Mercurial rookie Josh Rosen out of UCLA and veteran free-agent acquisition Sam Bradford will be battling it out during Cardinals’ training camp for the right to lead this team. It’s the duel In the desert, so let’s break down both passers to see which will and which should win the starting quarterback job.
Duel In The Desert, In The Red Corner: Sam Bradford
Before going into this, the most impressive number with Bradford is 129 million. Which is how many guaranteed dollars he has received in his career after this deal with the Cardinals ($20 million, $15 million guaranteed). That’s more than $1.27 million for every one of his career 101 touchdown passes. For a man that is best known for getting blasted with injury jokes in the comment section of every article he’s in, that is a nice chunk of change.
Okay, to the real stuff. When available, there is no denying that Bradford is good. Like real good. In 2016 with the Vikings, his last full season as a starter, he threw for 3,877 yards with a 20:5 touchdown to interception ratio. That’s four touchdowns for every interception. He also completed 71.6 percent of his passes that year, which was an NFL record until Drew Brees broke it in 2017.
It isn’t just one season either but it is just one season of truly great play. His career 101:57 touchdown to interception ratio, while still good, shows that his 2016 season was a bit of an anomaly. It’s important to remember, this poor guy was drafted and by Jeff Fisher for five years. That’s mean to anyone. Taking a look at his post-Fisher career, it’s much better. Along with the 2016 numbers above from his time with Minnesota, his 2015 season with the Eagles was also good. That year he put up 3,725 yards, 19 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and completed 65 percent of his passes in 14 games. He was consistent but far too prone to turnovers.
So what can fans expect at this point in Bradford’s career? Competency. Bradford’s accuracy is on par with anyone in the league, and running Arizona’s West Coast offense fits perfectly with his strengths. He may not be able to use the deep ball as often as Bruce Arians would have liked last year, but it’s likely there will be less of those throws under new coach Steve Wilks. Truly the only burner at wide receiver is Brice Butler out of this group. Larry Fitzgerald and rookie Christian Kirk both run routes very well. They are best suited for the slot, so expect a lot of crossing and drag routes when they’re on opposite sides of the field. When on the same side, I’d expect the “totally not a pick play” pick plays. Add in David Johnson out of the backfield, much like Minnesota used Jerick McKinnon during Bradford’s career year in 2016, and this seems like a very friendly group for him.
Unfortunately, Bradford has fought injuries through his entire career. Only twice has he played all 16 games in a season. He missed 6 games in 2011. Missed 9 games in 2013. Missed the entirety of the 2014 season, and only played one healthy game last year before getting hurt in week two. Now there are ways to protect an injury-prone, aging quarterback. However, this offensive line is worrisome. Injury-prone and aging players dot this offensive line around center JC Tretter, and as I’ve penned previously this offseason, it’s hard to put trust in any offense with a shaky offensive line. Mixed with Sam Bradford, this is a risky pairing for 2018.
In The Blue Corner: Josh Rosen
Season opener, UCLA vs. Texas A&M. UCLA was losing 44-10.
The legendary New England comeback against Atlanta was only 25 points. UCLA was down 34. The big, old-school rushing strategy was failing miserably. Enter the Rosen One.
Halfway through the third quarter, UCLA Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fischfinally gave up on the big formations. He finally let Rosen open it up in more 11 (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers) formations and let it rip. Josh threw for 491 yards and four touchdowns in that game, including the game-winner as time ran low. UCLA won 45-44.
Ignoring the crackpot argument of “he doesn’t care about football” that were spewed out before the draft. They’re bad. The guy isn’t poor and that was the entire basis of the thousands of words written on that idea. Sure, it’s easy to love the “started from the bottom” story, but this kid didn’t have to go that route. Doesn’t mean he cares any less. His coaches and teammates love the guy, and he’ll grow up in an NFL locker room.
Now back to real stuff. Josh Rosen had the best arm talent in this draft. Sure, Josh Allen could throw it across a state, but his accuracy isn’t in the same stratosphere. Baker Mayfield has the accuracy, but not nearly the touch that Rosen has. Honestly, the only things that are a cause for concern are 1. He’s a bit skinny and 2: He’s had issues with concussions.
He was widely considered to be an NFL ready talent. Judging by teammate Patrick Peterson‘s comments this offseason, those assessments were correct. On the Rich Eisen Show, he gushed about the rookie, saying, “I’ve never seen a rookie come on a team and do some of the things he’s doing.” It’s common to hear people wax poetic on rookies every year, but a defender saying that about a quarterback? Okay also not super rare, but I trust Patrick Peterson. He’s Patrick Peterson.
Once again, Josh is perfectly suited for the West Coast offense Arizona will run. He has a stronger arm than Bradford, which could allow him to take advantage of a strong play-action game with a threat like Johnson in the backfield. Bradford has been learning new offenses so much in his career he’ll definitely have the advantage in that aspect, but everyone knows Rosen is a smarter than average guy, himself. That more than anything can give him the advantage over other young quarterbacks who struggle with terminology and calling out protections at the line.
The winner is… SAM BRADFORD! For now. Josh Rosen will play and start this year, but Sam Bradford, barring injury, will win the job. He’s shown a great aptitude operating in offenses that function similarly to Arizona’s this year. He’ll have the playbook and terminology down first. That being said, it’s sooner rather than later that Rosen catches up in that field. At that point, he just has to outplay Bradford in practice. With a new head coach that may not feel the hot seat, if the rookie starts outplaying the veteran on the practice field, he may be more willing to see what he has in game action. Unfortunately, unless something unforeseen happens with this offensive line, anyone who drops back for Arizona this season will get roughed up, which is a large reason why fans may see Josh Rosen sooner than later. But if Bradford can rack up a few wins, he has the talent to keep the rookie on the bench. He would just need to have one playoff run in him.
Bradford takes the first Duel in the Desert, but it will not be his last. This fight will go on every week, and the real winner of this duel is the fans.