Opinion: Cowboys' 1990s QB controversy with Aikman shows that Cardinals should pick Murray
Arizona Republic sports columnist Greg Moore looks into the past for guidance in the future.
It might seem like the height of new-age lunacy to consider drafting Kyler Murray one year after taking Josh Rosen, but there is a pretty good example of where it worked in the past.
In 1989, Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys took Steve Walsh immediately after selecting Troy Aikman.
“I think it’s a fantastic precedent,” longtime NFL analyst Peter King said. “And it’s funny because it’s 30 years later … and it’s the first time since then that this has happened.”
This example forms the spine of the argument in favor of drafting Murray and keeping Rosen on the roster heading into training camp.
Before we lay out the particulars and parallels, let’s reset the decision facing Cardinals general manager Steve Keim.
He’s got the top pick in the draft. He has needs all over the board. He’s got a new defensive coordinator, who might love a keystone for his 3-4 defense. And he’s got a new head coach, who was hired specifically to supercharge an offense that was the league’s worst despite weapons such as Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and David Johnson.
Add to that mix, Rosen.
In 2018, he was regarded as having “top-notch arm talent” and “an exceptional football IQ.” Keim was so enamored, he gave up two picks to get him (a third- and a fifth-round selection.)
Keim is feeling pressure to improve the team. His squad won only three games in 2018. The Cardinals haven’t reached the playoffs in three years. And the recent failures can be directly traced to his draft picks that haven’t worked.
From 2013 to 2017, he picked 36 players. Only a handful remain in impact roles.
But last year, Keim showed why he’s been so highly regarded in the past. Five of his six picks are in the rotation.
Now, back to Jimmy Johnson and the construction of the three-time Super Bowl-winning ’90s Cowboys. He and Jerry Jones took Aikman with the No. 1 pick. A few months later in the supplemental draft, they took Walsh, forfeiting the next season’s first-round selection.
It was the definition of a quarterback controversy.
“There was definitely a divide in the locker room,” said Dale Hellestrae, an offensive tackle and long snapper on those teams.
“You could kind of just feel the tension of, ‘Who are you with? Are you with Steve? Or are you with Troy?' Thinking back, it was a very uncomfortable time.”
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Internal tension can create amazing results.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had issues. Apple ended up the world’s most valuable company. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t stand each other. They won three titles together. Driven largely by spite, Shaq won one more without Kobe. Kobe won two more without Shaq.
Depending on your generation, it’s easy to think of musical acts that worked despite underlying problems. The Beatles for Baby Boomers. A Tribe Called Quest for Generation X. Destiny’s Child for Millennials.
Ultimately, Aikman won in Dallas.
“Anybody from the quarterback coach to the janitor could tell,” Hellestrae said. “Troy was more talented. Arm strength. Accuracy. The things that made him a Hall of Famer were apparent. Talent-wise, there was really no competition.”
The knocks on Murray probably aren’t worth addressing.
He’s too short to see down the field? Tell that to Russell Wilson and Drew Brees.
He’s too small and will get hurt? Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton are huge. They’re always banged up.
What about those who say teams don’t need two quarterbacks? Tell that to the Philadelphia Eagles, who needed Nick Foles to step in for Carson Wentz to win a Super Bowl.
Let’s add one more thing to consider for the Cardinals.
Last season, Steve Wilks wanted to run a defense with four linemen and three linebackers. He wanted a bruising run game. He didn’t have that personnel, and it cost the team dearly.
This season, the Cardinals have Kliff Kingsbury. He’s here to run the Air Raid. It calls for quick decision-making and mobility behind the line of scrimmage. It also takes a quarterback who can zing passes on the run with pinpoint accuracy.
Kyler Murray is an ideal fit.
Josh Rosen is probably capable of adequately running the system. His play shows evidence that he can be more than a pocket passer. His reputation indicates that he can make faster decisions than he did last season.
But he’s going to have to prove it.
Let’s go back to NBC Sports’ King, reflecting on Johnson’s choice 30 years ago.
He remembered it coming down to one basic thing: If your guy is there, it doesn’t matter if you already have a quarterback.
“If you have the first pick ... and the guy sitting there potentially might be a long-term franchise quarterback and not just a caretaker-type guy,” he said, “then you’re definitely gonna do that.”