What the Lions Can Learn From the Cardinals

Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports-Arizona

Kliff Kingsbury and the Arizona Cardinals are one of the better storylines in the NFL this year. In what was expected to be a crowded NFC West, the Cardinals have led the division from the jump and enter the final turn of the season with a 10-3 record, tied for best in the conference.

This week, the Detroit Lions will welcome Kyler Murray and Co. to Detroit and look to pull off an unthinkable win. With the Cardinals in town, they can take some notes on what Arizona has done to get to this point.

The Cardinals hadn’t posted a winning record since 2015 when they went 13-3. They’ve already clinched a season that will land them over .500 with their ten wins. It wasn’t easy to get to this point.

In 2018, general manager Steve Keim traded up in the draft to No. 10 to select Josh Rosen, a promising quarterback prospect from UCLA. Arizona had a broken Sam Bradford and a certified backup in Mike Glennon on the roster. Clearly, the future of the franchise wasn’t on the depth chart, so they drafted Rosen with the hope that he would be the answer.

He wasn’t.

After only one season, the Cardinals aborted that mission and sent Rosen to Miami. Rare is the situation in which a team will bail on a first-round quarterback after just one year, but it’s exactly what the Cardinals opted to do.

Then they went out and hired Kliff Kingsbury as their head coach. And with the No. 1-overall pick, they took another huge swing by selecting Kyler Murray from Oklahoma. The rest is history.

The Lions shouldn’t dismiss the route that Arizona took. Given what he’s had to work with, Jared Goff has been admirable at quarterback this year. But despite some gutsy efforts from Goff, it’s clear that he isn’t the future of the franchise. Detroit is far from a QB away from success, but so was Arizona when they drafted Murray. Goff leaves the Lions searching for an answer.

There is not a single quarterback prospect in this draft class that is worthy of the No. 1-overall pick in 2022. However, it’s the spot Detroit will likely find themselves selecting from. The key for the Lions is not to reach but to repeatedly take calculated shots until they finally hit the jackpot.

If Detroit stays put at No. 1, there seems to be an early consensus that they will select Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson or Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. That plan is just fine. It’s what they do after the No. 1 pick that could have significant implications on the franchise’s future.

When Detroit traded for Goff, they acquired picks from the Los Angeles Rams, including LA’s 2022 first-round selection. Right now, it’s probable that pick lands somewhere in the early 20s of the first round. The Lions have every reason to fling a dart at the board and take a quarterback at that spot.

Whether it’s Sam Howell, Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, or another quarterback, that should be the plan for the Lions. Hutchinson can be a pillar to build the defense around, but it’s no secret that you need a franchise quarterback to get to the peak of the sport. That’s where Detroit can draw motivation from Arizona.

The Cardinals swung and missed on Rosen, but they knew it pretty quickly. Instead of waiting it out and trying to turn around a situation that wasn’t going anywhere, they bailed and went right back to the well to select Murray.

Nobody will blame the Lions if they use the first-round pick from the Rams to draft a quarterback, and it doesn’t work out. The key is to keep swinging away. If that means taking another quarterback early in the 2023 draft, so be it.

Goff can hold down the fort for now, but there are limitations. Detroit needs to build around whoever the future franchise quarterback is, and yet again, they can use a similar method to Arizona.

Arizona traded for superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, used free agency to sign AJ Green, and used draft picks to take Rondale Moore and Christian Kirk at wide receiver. Detroit shouldn’t rely on the draft alone to build up the talent on their roster. However, it’s their most viable method for finding their next signal-caller. It’s incredibly rare to have superstar, face-of-the-franchise quarterbacks become available in the NFL. Even in the rare instances that they do, Detroit doesn’t top the list of preferred destinations. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth.

Sunday will be arguably the toughest test of the season for the Lions. Arizona is riding a heater this year and has stamped their mark in a crowded NFC. It wasn’t always the prettiest of circumstances for the Cardinals, but they have found their franchise quarterback through trial and error. Detroit should take note.

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