Revisionist History: McCown produces Fitz

Posted by Darren Urban on June 1, 2011 – 11:04 am

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

The Cardinals were sitting with the third overall pick in a draft heavy with quality quarterback options, so when the just-hired Dennis Green decided to cut incumbent veteran Jeff Blake in early February of 2004, it didn’t really raise any eyebrows (although it did lead to one of the greatest quotes I have ever collected, from Blake when talking about his career: “It’s not like I’ve played bad ball. I’ve just been on bad teams.”)

That changed quickly. So too did the future of the Cardinals.

Less than a week later, I happened to be at the Cards’ facility when Green was going to give what was expected to be an innocuous TV interview. No other reporters were there. Denny proceeded to say odds were “slim” the Cards would take a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft.

“Josh McCown, I think he is going to be a great one,” Green said. Wait … what? I was stunned.

(So were a couple of other print reporters, who worked around their absence by coming the next day in an attempt to get Denny to repeat himself. He wouldn’t – not as strongly. At one point one reporter said, “We’re trying to get you to say what you told Darren yesterday.” Denny’s response was classic Denny: “That was yesterday.”)

McCown’s résumé wasn’t long. He had made the miracle pass to beat the Vikings in the season finale of 2003. He had five touchdowns and six interceptions in a three-game starting stint, but with a new coach, it just seemed like the Cards would nab someone like Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.

The new coach was Green, however. As became evident soon, his belief in Pitt wideout Larry Fitzgerald – with whom Green was also close personally – was strong enough to make Fitz the Cards’ target. Clearly, Fitz was talented, and Green’s thoughts on what Fitzgerald could be have definitely played out over the years. Yet quarterback is always important, and regardless of how talented Fitzgerald would be, was it worth passing on what was available? You have to wonder, did it color Green’s evaluation of McCown? Because the only way the Cards could really justify taking Fitz at the time was the knowledge McCown could play. Green never was big with the draft smokescreens. I remember at the Scouting combine in 2005 he all but announced he wanted J.J. Arrington. In 2004, it was obvious he wanted Fitzgerald.

Draft weekend was a memorable couple of days. Pat Tillman’s death came to light on Friday, the day before the draft, overshadowing football. Then, as expected, the weeks of Green talking up McCown was capped when the Cards took Fitzgerald. (Green also kept to his word about the first three rounds, taking non-QBs Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett in one heck of a first-day draft haul. John Navarre was the QB selected, in the seventh round.) McCown was the Cardinals’ guy.

I believe the Cards would have taken Roethlisberger if they had decided on a quarterback. How different would things have been for so many connected to the Cards? Big Ben and no Fitz in Arizona probably would have meant Anquan staying and Kurt never coming. Would the Steelers – with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt – won a Super Bowl after the 2005 season? Would Whiz still have ended up with the Cards?

In the long term, it worked out well for the Cards. Warner and Whisenhunt did come to the desert, a combination that led to a Super Bowl appearance. McCown – one of the greatest guys ever to come through the Cards’ locker room – didn’t work out. But without him, there was no way the Cards take Fitzgerald, a potential Hall of Famer.

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37 Responses to “Revisionist History: McCown produces Fitz”

  1. By Jarrod C on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Hey D,
    Totally of subject but any chance the Cardinals where a throwback Jersey this year?? Forgot how much I liked the early 00’s all red unis. Liked the darker red. Or any of the 90’s Jerseys. Maybe like a Tillman tribute game every year. That would b great. Run by Whiz for us fans!!

  2. By cheesebeef on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    In the long-term it worked out for the Cards? Huh? Because of one incredible, never reproduced playoff run? I LOVE Fitz, but in those seven years since that draft we’ve had two winning seasons and two seasons with good QB play… whereas Big Ben/Rivers are two of the best QBs in the NFL who’s teams are consistently in the playoffs or have won multiple Super Bowls. Passing on HOF QBs for a HOF WR has put us in the position where this team has seemingly been for 90% of it’s time in Arizona… desperate for a QB and staring at a top 5 pick in the draft, not to mention everyone’s fearful of losing Fitz for nothing next year because of that fact. How exactly that equals “working out” is beyond me.

  3. By Anthony Aguilera on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    @Jarrod C

    I think they should bring back the old home/away jerseys. The Cards used to play with those a lot at home when they played at SDS because of the heat. 2018 would be the 120 anniversary of the franchise and the 30th of the Cards coming to Arizona, maybe then they can wear throwbacks.

    About the Article, I’ve pondered what it would be like if the Cardinals took Ben Roethlisburger instead of Fitz, how different this franchise would be. The Cardinals had a lot of talent back then, all they needed was a quarterback. Also available in the draft was Eli Manning.

  4. By KingJM on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    It’s crazy to think about the other scenarios that could’ve happened instead. I think in the long run we would’ve been better off getting Rivers, or at least Ben.

  5. By lets talk cardinals on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Phillip Rivers over Fitz anyday, sorry Fitz but we could have Drafted Julio Jones this year!

  6. By D on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Josh was a nice guy and lasted longer than people thought as a backup..which is good for him because he has a lot of kids to feed. Not sure how things would have turned out with Big Ben, but I am glad today we have Whiz and not Denny. Even though Denny had the best first day draft in this teams’s history. Heck, that many be the best first day draft of all teams in the last 10 years.

  7. By ross on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Fitzgerald IS the cardinals. Best pick of the draft.

  8. By Ryan on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    I agree if we would have taken Phillip Rivers who creates offense with what he has around him, but Big Ben relies too much on a defense, and grinding out wins. A defense he wouldn’t have the luxury of in Arizona. As a player and person i think the team made the right choice.

  9. By tom on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply


    this is a little off topic but do you know where the cards ranked in 3 and outs and 3rd down conversion rate?

  10. By Darren Urban on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Tom —

    RE: Rankings

    I will have to try and track that down.

  11. By brad oneill on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Ben most likely would not have succeeded here. Pittsburg was a perfect system for him. Look at his stats how many games would we win with his stats? I would much rather have a great guy like fitz than a self absorbed frat boy like ben.

    2 winning seasons with a team you can be proud of on and off the field is something I can live with as a fan.

  12. By ross on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Darren, what would you do now looking where everyone is and what they’ve become?

  13. By cheesebeef on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    how you can proud of a team with 2 winning seasons ON the field in 10 years is why this franchise continues to be a joke. and take Ben out of the equation… passing on Rivers was just as much as a colassal blunder Brad.

  14. By Kevyn on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Can’t remember which game it was, but I recall a game Josh was QB for one half and Warner the other. Both threw for over 300 yards each.

  15. By Paul Danek on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Interesting article for sure. Here’s how I look at it. Ben Roethlesburger: Rapist, pig. Fitz and Warner: Two of the classiest guys ever to throw on pads and a helmet. Cards did pretty well, I say.

  16. By Eazy E on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Denny was a coach who could draft though. The QB decision wasn’t one of his greatest highlights but nobody that is a REAL Cardinal fan is disappointed at Larry so far. Surely Roethlisberger and Rivers are franchise QBs, but hey we got a franchise player and WR too. It’s much much better than fitz being a bust.

  17. By Peter in Canada on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    IMO Warner was better than Rivers who can not seem to win when it counts and way way way better than Ben. I think we would not have made the Super Bowl with either of them. Nobody was a better playoff performer than Warner who was able to carry teams in big games rather than be carried by them. Also Fitz was lights out in the run to the Super Bowl. Overall I agree with u Darren things turned out o.k. But I sure would have liked Rivers last year instead of DA.

  18. By Don't Take Losses on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    McCown actually did have a few moments; Fitz and Warner moments to remember a lifetime for sure. Please check out my positive spin on the Birds, er, Arizona Cardinals. I know you’ll delete if an unacceptable link, but I think you’ll like.

  19. By brad oneill on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    Cheesebeef- I agree that rivers is a fantastic player and would love to have him here. And although 2 winning seasons isn’t great it sure beats the first 15 or so seasons here in the valley. – I like to begin counting at the new stadium if we rebound this year we will be 3 out of 4 and that ain’t so bad.

  20. By brad oneill on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

    we were dead last in 3rd down conversions somewhere around 27 percent.

  21. By brad oneill on Jun 1, 2011 | Reply

  22. By jocards on Jun 2, 2011 | Reply

    I like Fitz and he’s a top level receiver to be sure. I do however feel that the pick should’ve been Rivers or Roethlisberger. I was expecting Roethlisberger actually….I know he seems to be of questionable character now and looking at things now I can understand how folks might be glad he isn’t in Arizona with the character questions factored into the equation. But from a football standpoint I think either QB would have been a better choice….just my opinion.

  23. By cards62 on Jun 2, 2011 | Reply

    Are you guys really questioning a draft that brought us Fitzgerald, Dansby, and Dockett? I will take that draft any year and yes BIg Ben and Phillip Rivers have been very good, but look at how many QBs have been bust, and by the way we could have had Drew Brees to go along with that draft class I believe for free, and I will take Drew Brees or Kurt Warner over Ben and Phillip any day of the week. SD under Rivers zero SB appearances and Pittsburg does it with defense, running the ball, and some Ben, but Drew or Kurt would have also won Superbowls with Pittsburg.
    Go Cards and welcome back Darren

  24. By Safford Todd on Jun 2, 2011 | Reply

    Hey Darren, please don’t forget Boomer. He was awesome, wish we had him now!

  25. By jocards on Jun 2, 2011 | Reply

    cards62 –

    I’m not questioning that draft as a whole, the Cards got three very good players without a doubt. All I was saying is that there were 2 franchise QB’s available and the Cards had Josh McCown as their starter. IMO productive WR’s are a lot easier to come by than are QB’s and it’s a lot easier to compensate if you don’t have an elite WR than it is if you don’t have a QB…Fitzgerald is top level WR. But to me it’s difficult to imagine a team winning a SB because they have a better receiver, not so difficult to imagine a team winning because they have a better QB.

  26. By blake on Jun 2, 2011 | Reply

    Josh McCown was one tough cookie he didnt pan out but does anyone remember the hit he took against the Giants ( i ll have to go back and check my tape of who the player was ) that pegged Josh but i was surprised his head was still attached after the hit and then he popped right back up and signaled first down , GO JOSH , although he did look a little woozy , i believe it was the same game we sacked Kurt like 5 times ., but MAN what a hit

  27. By Cards Fan In Wisconsin on Jun 3, 2011 | Reply

    I agree with a Tillman Tribute game, with everybody wearing 40, just like Baseball does with Jackie Robinson. The old Aways should come back, but add the cardinals on the front of the jersey, with our current logo. Because our old one looks as fragile as an antique mirror. I would REALLY want them to get rid of the DUMB gray facemasks. Slap some red on there, lets look like we play : fierce

  28. By Micheal on Jun 4, 2011 | Reply

    I love the fact we have Fitz but we have always had decent WRs in AZ! So if we had a QB that could throw to Q and Johnson (if i remember correctly Kasper had some good days too) wasn’t bad neither I think we could of had more than 2 playoffs appearances with River maybe even Eli!

  29. By Adam Sheafe on Jun 4, 2011 | Reply

    If the Card want to really win. Whisenhunt needs to make winning the Superbowl a goal at the beginning of the pre season an not run from that goal and just make winning league and getting to the playoffs the most important. Let your guys know what the ultimate goal. Then layout a plan on how we will get there and what the team mentality needs to be. The year the Cardinals
    lost in the Suoerbowl that was never the goal of the team. Meanwhile it was the Steelers mindset
    all season. The Cards didn’t deserve to win if
    that isn’t the goal of all of the staff and players.
    Whisenhunt seems to be getting it now with the coaches he fired and brought in. Now he just needs to create an develop a winning mentality on this team and the Cards will be good. 2 shut down corners will help any team get 3 wins alone. Now all you need is Kevin Kolb and you increase your chances to be relevant again. But the team needs to know and see what the ultimate goal is. Don’t assume they already know because everyone doesn’t already know it.

  30. By clssylssy on Jun 4, 2011 | Reply

    Nice article Darren and I agree things worked out OK. I can’t begin to imagine Big Ben fitting into the Cardinal chemistry. Drew Brees, yeah, but as it turned out Kurt Warner was the glue the team needed and had the experience of already leading a team to one Superbowl.
    I would love to see an annual Tillman Tribute game, and can’t figure out why this hasn’t occurred already. We are the only team in the NFL with a player who put country before contract and paid the ultimate price.

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