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As we close off the 2023 NFL Draft, let's turn our eyes forward. Among the biggest winners of this year’s draft are the Arizona Cardinals, and not necessarily because of who they picked in 2023 but who they'll be in line to take in 2024.
Yeah, we’re all sick of mock drafts at this point, and we’re not about to delve into deep prognostication here. But it doesn’t take much analysis to know that the top of next year’s class will feature some saliva-inducing options in quarterbacks Caleb Williams and Drake Maye and wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.
Williams is the reigning Heisman winner, Maye a check-all-boxes prototypical QB and Harrison a 2022 unanimous All-American selection … as a true sophomore. It’s not a stretch to say that if these three were eligible last week, they would have been selected before Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud or Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
All three will be coveted, and waiting for them should be the Cardinals.
The Houston Texans certainly made a splash Thursday when they selected Stroud No. 2 overall, then traded back up into the Cardinals’ spot to take Will Anderson Jr. at No. 3. But Arizona, in netting the Texans’ 2024 first-round pick, could prove to be the bigger winner.
Considering the Cardinals are likely to struggle next season with Kyler Murray’s status up in the air as he rehabs a torn ACL, and the Texans will still be in rebuilding mode, Arizona could very easily end up with the top two picks in the 2024 draft.
This is a case of not all trades being created equal. The Kansas City Chiefs gave up a first-rounder to the Buffalo Bills to move up to select Patrick Mahomes in 2017. K.C. went 10-6 the following season, which translated to the No. 21 overall pick for Buffalo. The Bills eventually turned that into Josh Allen, but it took some wheeling, dealing and draft capital to get there.
The Cardinals, in all likelihood, won’t need to wheel and deal; they’re already going to be there. And if they end up with the top two picks — or even two of the top three — this could wind up being a modern-day Herschel Walker-type trade.
If Arizona doesn’t consider itself in the market for a quarterback, and if it’s willing to play the long game, those two draft picks could be exchanged for a haul down the road, the kind that could net a 2020s version of Emmitt Smith or Russell Maryland or Darren Woodson — a tactfully built foundation that can lead to a dynasty.
Now, I’ll pump the brakes here — there’s a 30-year-old Mack truck’s worth of mileage between the Arizona Cardinals and three Super Bowls. It’s just that the model is there and the possibility actually exists. The Dallas Cowboys got three first-rounders from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for Walker in 1989. No. 1 next year (based on what the Chicago Bears got this year) could net two extra firsts, plus some seconds (like the Cowboys). No. 2 or 3 about the same, though maybe only one extra first-rounder.
If both picks wind up high next year, and the Cardinals are up for swimming through the muck, the bidders are going to be there for three tier-one skill players.
It would take patience, it would take guts, but more than anything, it would take a team owner backing his general manager no matter what.
Do the Cardinals have what it takes in the front office to build a dynasty on the field?