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Fitzgerald, the 2004 draft and what if

Posted by Darren Urban on April 21, 2017 – 11:02 am

“What if” is a staple of sports. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular play, game, season or transaction, hindsight is everywhere. ESPN.com played the game recently, posting a “What If” draft moment for each team. For the Cardinals, it was an obvious but solid choice: What if the Cardinals had drafted Adrian Peterson over Levi Brown in 2007. That’s also a game all of us have played over and over, almost since that time.

My “What If” Cardinals draft moment creates a lot more debate, but it’s one that is fascinating to deconstruct. It also gives no clear answer, unlike Peterson/Brown. What if the Cardinals had drafted Ben Roethlisberger instead of Larry Fitzgerald in 2004?

First, the obvious. Fitz is the face of this franchise, and has been for many years. He’s beloved by the fans, and by ownership. He’s been a Hall of Fame football player. There is no angle in which you can say the Cardinals made the wrong decision by selecting Fitzgerald. He helped the Cardinals get to a Super Bowl (and it can be argued he basically carried them there.)

But again, what if?

Dennis Green wanted Fitz. The former coach laid the groundwork for taking the wide receiver anywhere he could, at one point emphasizing how athletic and talented incumbent but inexperienced quarterback Josh McCown was. Remember, this was 2004, a season before the Cardinals brought Kurt Warner in as really the only team in the NFL still willing to give Warner a shot at starting.

When Fitz was taken third overall, Eli Manning was already off the board, but Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers were still on the board. I think the Cards would’ve taken Big Ben had they gone QB (but what if it had been Rivers – would the Giants had taken Big Ben, traded him to the Chargers for Eli, and then Roethlisberger was a Charger?)

If Roethlisberger had been a Cardinal instead of Fitz, Warner never comes to Arizona. The Cardinals did have Anquan Boldin coming off his huge rookie season, and he would have remained the Cards’ No. 1 receiver – and with no Fitz, he probably never has contract issues and sticks around. Would Denny still have stalled out as coach with Big Ben? Even if he did, and was fired, would Ken Whisenhunt – who as OC of the Steelers wouldn’t have had Roethlisberger to lead them to a Super Bowl win in 2005 – still be a hot coaching commodity to be hired by the Cardinals?

Would the Cards have found a way to the Super Bowl in 2008, and if they had, would they have seen the Ben-less Steelers? The Cardinals also wouldn’t have drafted Matt Leinart in 2006, and it’s hard to know exactly where Fitzgerald would have ended up in 2004.

What makes the Fitz draft choice so smart in hindsight is that the Cardinals have been able to bring in two veterans in for little – Warner and Carson Palmer – and have them play very well in Arizona. The Cards haven’t turned into the Browns, constantly searching for a quarterback – making a 2004 miss more of a lament.

Still, what if?


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28 Responses to “Fitzgerald, the 2004 draft and what if”

  1. By D on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    I love Larry, but Big Ben has helped the Steelers win 2 SB’s since 2004. Who’s to say Big Ben couldn’t have done that in AZ with Q being the #1 WR and the Cards drafting mostly Def players the last decade..

  2. By JTDG on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    All interesting points. But here is one for you Darren,

    Forget 2007 and Peterson. What if the cards did their homework like the Jets, who traded up for him, and grabbed a CB out of Pitt named Darrelle Revis instead of Levi Brown?

    So do the Steelers make that final drive in the superbowl if Revis Island is on Santonio Holmes?

    Revis and DRC ???? Yeah, we have a super bowl trophy.

  3. By JTDG on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    Darren,

    I got to ask, is this a counter point to my 2011 example?

    Are you saying, what would happen if the cards take Mike Williams and pass on Watson or Mahomes and even though Williams has a great career, the cards grasp at QBs for years?

    If you are, it is a valid point. Only thing is, and every expert would agree, this group of QBs are not the 2004 QBs.

    Now 2018 group ????? I’ll buy that argument.

  4. By Darren Urban on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    JTDG —

    RE: Counter point

    I wrote that a couple days ago. So no, it wasn’t.

  5. By JTDG on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    OK, you got me thinking of what ifs;

    In the 2006 draft, Denny Green had a chance to take 3 tackles in round two.
    Marcus McNeil (who starred for Chargers for 6 years till a back injury), Andrew Whitworth ( pro bowler who is still a great LT) and Jeremy Trueblood (who started 94 games)

    Instead, before those tackles were picked, he chose Duece Lutui.

    If Green grabbed one of the other 3, the cards would not have been looking for a tackle in 2007 and would have drafted Peterson or Marshawn Lynch. Or maybe Revis or Patrick Willis.

    Ahhh , one mistake in the draft can haunt you for years. That one draft mistake probably cost the cards a superbowl.

  6. By Scott H on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    I’ve never been anything but glad the Cards took Fitz over Big Ben. And maybe that sounds ignorant, seeing as Ben HAS been a great QB and HAS won 2 SB’s. But that was in Pittsburgh, a city and a franchise that always seems to find its way back to that game at some point. They won 4 SB’s before Ben was ever there. But….whatever.

    There are NO guarantees that Big Ben has the same career here as he’s had with the Steelers. And that is one of the fundamental “problems” with the what-if game. I mean…..if Tom Brady id drafted by the Browns or the Jaguars, does he have the same career he’s had in NE???

    Anyway….the Cardinals took Larry Fitzgerald and I’ve never looked back. He is the greatest player in the history of this franchise and I will forever cherish the magic that the 2008 team captured riding on the shoulders of Fitz and a born-again Kurt Warner ( who also probably never finds his way here if the Cards had taken Big Ben ).

    I’ll take the way it all turned out, thank you.

  7. By steve on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    Darren: When does Steve Keim start calling other teams to gauge interest in trading up/down in the draft? Say Keim and BA have their sights set on getting either Haasan Reddick or Rueben Foster at 13 but plan to try and trade up from 45 to the top of the 2nd rd or late 1st to select QB DeShone Kizer, will they be calling teams now or does that not take place until draft day?

  8. By Darren Urban on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    Steve —

    RE: Trade

    There might be some early gauge-work this week but the reality is that all happens on the clock.

  9. By gbrim20 on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    Can’t even argue Fitz was the correct choice over Ben or Rivers if you’re going to put it that way, with 20/20 hindsight. Salaries prove it. The open market has determined that no WR is worth even what the 15th best QB is worth. Guys like Tannehill, Bradford, and Alex Smith all make equal to or a little over what Antonio Brown makes as the top WR.

    All teams have the same cap and ability to spend wherever they want. The market says an average to above average QB is worth more than the best WR, and frankly it’s hard to argue.

  10. By Rick on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    Denny, was not one of the great coaches here. Thank god he picked Fitz He made many mistakes that cost us
    but picking Fitz was not one of em.

  11. By joe holst on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    I wouldn’t trade Larry for anyone else, the whole 2004 Draft class was outstanding

  12. By Jacob Hewitt on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    This IS FOR EVERYONE
    Who do y’all think the Arizona Cardinals “SHOULD” Draft round 1? In 2017 DRAFT

  13. By JohnnyBluenose on Apr 21, 2017 | Reply

    Another “what if”…..what if our new stadium, soon to be re-named, had not been built in 2006. Where would our Cardinals be calling home now? Darren, was the new stadium a controversial decision at the time or were the politicians and taxpayers onside with it?

  14. By Darren Urban on Apr 22, 2017 | Reply

    Johnny —

    RE: Stadium

    Politicians were with it enough to get it on the ballot. As for the taxpayers, a little more than half were, so here we are.

  15. By joe67 on Apr 22, 2017 | Reply

    Good Post Darren! Always fun to talk about situations like this. Kind of like the old days when everyone would predict trades and talk about “what ifs” and “why not”
    Thanks.

  16. By JTDG on Apr 22, 2017 | Reply

    Jacob Hewitt,

    OK, with less than a week away, here is what I am doing if I was in charge.

    The cards at 13 is tough to predict because of all the possibilities that could play out in the first 12 picks.

    I would say if Marshon Lattimore fell to 13, you run the card up, but I can’t see that happening.

    Here is what I do if I am Keim,

    If OJ Howard is there at 13, it is rumored the Giants and Lions really want him. That is your trade partner. Let’s say you trade with the Lions and drop to #21 and pick up another 2nd rounder.
    Now at #21, you address the oline and take Forest Lamp.

    Listen, the cards have a hole at RG. They also have Iupati who should be a cap casualty in 2018. They need help on the oline. Lamp can play all the spots on the oline, but plug him in as RG and you are better.

    In round 2, you will see several CBs who could compete for the starting spot.

    So, with my first 2nd rounder, and I may even trade up, I want Ju Ju Smith, WR. This guy will help in 2017 and be the perfect replacement in the slot in 2018 for Fitz.

    Most mocks have Humphrey and White dropping to round 2. Fabian Moreau should be there, Tankersly and Wilson should be there. So, with the second 2nd rounder, I take the best CB still on the board.

    I also would be very tempted to draft Sidney Jones in round 2. The guy is a top 10 pick and would need to sit for 2017. If you found that vet (here it comes…. like Revis/ McCortney to sign a one year deal), Jones and Peterson would be the best duo in 2018 in the game.

  17. By Scott H on Apr 22, 2017 | Reply

    Man….I forget sometimes that the old logo / bird’s head was still in place when Fitz was drafted. That almost doesn’t seem possible.

    Darren – when did the logo change? Was it 2005?

  18. By Darren Urban on Apr 22, 2017 | Reply

    Scott H —

    RE: Logo/new unis

    Yes. March of 2005.

  19. By Coach K on Apr 22, 2017 | Reply

    Darren, give me you gut feeling

    Have you heard B.A. specifically mention any of these
    quarterbacks in passive conversation with staff and media?

    I’m trying to figure out how all the buzz began with Kizer, then
    Mahomes. Was it media, or was it coming from small talk inside
    the building?

    Curious.

  20. By Darren Urban on Apr 23, 2017 | Reply

    Coach K —

    RE: QBs

    Bruce hasn’t really had any “passive” conversation. Buzz begins like it always does. Little truth, some agent fanning the flames, lots of internet speculation. Who knows?

  21. By Big Ken on Apr 23, 2017 | Reply

    I think they stay put at the 13th pick and draft Watson or Mahomes, but they favor one of the two. If the one they favor is gone then NO quarterback selected this year.

  22. By Kevin S Mesa on Apr 23, 2017 | Reply

    gbrim20 makes a really interesting point. Top WR’s make what mid-level QB’s make, reflecting their greater impact on the game. A top QB with not much else (Andrew Luck) and you’re pretty much at least in the hunt every year (unless you’re the Saints and your defense is SO bad that you’re sub-.500 even with one of the top offenses in the league); a top WR with not much else and you’re 5-11.

    But there is a flip side to the question, which is, do our standard methods of evaluating players allow us to determine who will and won’t be successful as a QB?

    There are the obvious picks — Luck when he was drafted, for example. But let’s remember that when Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning were drafted, some thought Leaf was better than Manning and should go #1. Most of the guys picked very high in the draft (the #1 OA guys, like Luck, Palmer, Newton and more recently Winston) turn out OK. But let’s look at some recent drafts. 2014 — Bortles went #3, then Manziel, then Bridgewater, then Carr. Is there any doubt that most would say Carr and Bridgewater (before breaking his leg) are better than Bortles and Manziel?

    2013, hard to evaluate, since none of them turned out any good.

    2012, Luck (obvious)… but then RGIII turned out to be a washout after his one good year. Injuries, adjustments by the defense, or both? Tannehill was the #8 pick, followed by Weeden and Osweiler, but a guy taken in the 3rd round (Wilson) has been to two SB’s.

    2011, after the #1 OA pick was used on Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder went 8-10-12. But Andy Dalton, better by far (in retrospect) than any of them, went in the 2nd round.

    You see the point. It seems that, once you’re past the can’t miss guys, drafting a QB is something of a crapshoot. And then look at what happened this past year, when a whole bunch of QB’s were drafted before Dak Prescott, who went on to have one of the most successful rookie seasons you could imagine.

    I haven’t done a similar analysis of the WR position, but my gut tells me it’s a little more predictable.

  23. By Scott H on Apr 24, 2017 | Reply

    Kevin –

    Yup, you got it – drafting a QB is pretty much ALWAYS a crapshoot…unless his name is Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck. And “crapshoot” is the perfect word for it. Because more often than not, teams who draft QB’s end up with crap and the next few years for them are shot!

    We’ve had our share of that over the decades, haven’t we?

    Really, absent of that MUST HAVE QB-type guy being there this year, I’d be fine with seeing them go QB of the future next year. CB, O-line, LB, D-line would be my priorities this year.

  24. By JTDG on Apr 24, 2017 | Reply

    NFL Network did a live mock draft with their expert panel of 8. Each member took 4 teams to pick for.

    In this live mock, At #13, the cardinals took Tre’davious White CB from LSU.

    I like the pick but was thinking he might fall to the second round. Maybe I am wrong.

    White is a great cover guy and would help the secondary from day one.

    Interesting, they did not have a QB come off the board till the redskins chose Trubisky at 17.

  25. By JTDG on Apr 24, 2017 | Reply

    Kevin and Scott,

    Drafting a QB is a crap shoot;

    It only seems like that because teams need a QB so bad, they push their value up.

    You would never see a team take a CB at 13 and say, well he is a developmental CB and we need to wait two years till he is ready, with hopes he will come around.

    Fact is, these QBs have holes in their games. If they played other positions, their value would be 2nd, 3rd, maybe 4th round guys.

    Locker, Gabbert both had scouting reports that they were inaccurate. Inaccuracy is rarely fixed but they were chosen anyway. Ponder was oft injured and was careless with the ball and was way over drafted. RG3 is small. He was small then and is small now. His game was all about his feet. What made the skins think he could take the NFL pounding. I could go on and on.

    It seems like a crap shoot because teams push guys up and draft them when they shouldn’t just because of the desperate need for QBs.

    When I look at this class, Trubisky has 13 games under his belt and is inaccurate. Sounds like Mark Sanchez. You could have signed Mark Sanchez and kept your pick. But some team, desperate for a QB will over draft him , as the Jets did with Sanchez.

    For instance, Landry Jones was a FA who resigned with the Steelers. He played in two games last year, threw for 558 yards and 4 TDs, 61% comp ratio and had a rating of 86. This guy showed he can perform in the NFL and might develop into a starting QB if given the reps.

    But a team would rather take a chance on a gun slinger who never takes snaps from under the center, who is careless with the ball and has all kinds of mechanic problems.

    Then , when Mahomes fails, we say it is a crap shoot. Mahomes should be a 3rd round flyer

  26. By DAVEMAHAM on Apr 24, 2017 | Reply

    D —

    Dennis Green and Rod Graves– That’s who says Big Ben wouldn’t have won two super bowls in AZ. And if you recall Ben would only have one Superbowl, and Larry would have one– If it weren’t for two unbelievable plays in the Superbowl they faced off in.

  27. By Kevin S Mesa on Apr 25, 2017 | Reply

    JTDG —

    Yes, no doubt, teams draft QB’s high given the importance of the position.

    I think you’re largely right about this class. Some guys are going to go in the first round and may never pan out at all. And, worse, a team may waste a year or two on a guy and then have to go out and spend ANOTHER high pick to start over.

    The one thing in your post that I’d disagree with slightly is in regard to Landry Jones. I’m not saying he’s bad, and if memory serves you’ve always been relatively high on him (I seem to recall you talking him up in his draft year). And maybe, as you say, he could develop into a good starting QB. I just wouldn’t put any stock into his two games/61% completion percentage/86 rating from last year.

    Just for fun:

    Jones 2016: 2 games, 61.6% comp, 4 TD/2 INT, 86.3 rating
    Other guy 2015: 8 games, 61.8% comp, 10 TD/6 INT, 86.4 rating.

    Who’s the guy with the nearly identical (slighly better) comp % and rating? Hint: He got a zillion dollars as a FA.

    Small sample sizes don’t mean much. I still remember Matt Flynn parlaying one huge start into a contract with Seattle, and then losing the job to 3rd round pick Wilson.

  28. By JTDG on Apr 25, 2017 | Reply

    Kevin S Mesa,

    I wasn’t saying Jones would be a good QB, what I was meaning is, Jones has shown something, was a FA, but teams would rather take a rookie with holes in their game than a guy who can win games in the NFL.

    Hey don’t forget the game where he beat the cards.

    Personally, I think Jones could be a Josh McCown, Hoyer or Fitzpatrick. A serviceable QB. Sometimes starting, sometimes a back up.

    I would have liked to seen the cards sign him this offseason as a bridge QB after Palmer and till they find that rookie QB. I think he is a better option than Stanton. I never mentioned it because it was pointless with how BA trust Stanton.

    As for two games, isn’t that what Garapalo has played ??

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