Under general manager Steve Keim, the Cardinals haven’t shied away from players with off-field or character concerns. Rosen, who was chosen No. 10 overall on Thursday, is the latest example.
When conversations turned to Rosen during the run-up to this year’s NFL draft, one topic routinely came up: His personality. How outgoing and opinionated would he be? How would that persona fit in an NFL locker room? How would he relate to coaches -- and how would coaches relate to him?
“There’s been some pretty successful quarterbacks in the NFL in recent years who have been wired the same way,” Keim said, “who’ve said what’s on their mind, who have had a thirst to learn more from their coaches, to ask for more responsibility from the coaches in terms of play calls and checking at the line of scrimmage, which, again, I think is exciting because the guy is dialed in mentally.”
Rosen wasn’t the right fit for every team, but the Cardinals have proved since 2013, the year Keim was hired as general manager, that they have the infrastructure to carry whatever baggage a player brings with him. First, it was Tyrann Mathieu in 2013, when Arizona drafted him in the third round after he missed the entire 2012 college season due to failed drug tests and an arrest. Then it was Robert Nkemdiche in 2016, whom the Cardinals picked late in the first round after he dropped because of a drug-related incident at an Atlanta hotel during his last season at Ole Miss.
Both players entered the draft process with red flags. Both dropped in the draft. Both ended up in Arizona. Neither has had any off-field issues since.
However, both players entered a locker room laden with veterans who set a specific tone from Day 1.
Nkemdiche was mentored by defensive line veterans Frostee Rucker and Corey Peters the past two seasons and Calais Campbell in 2016. Mathieu had close friend Patrick Peterson to rely upon as well as veterans Jerraud Powers, Rashad Johnson, Tyvon Branch, Antonio Cromartie and Antoine Bethea, who mentored him over the years.
And now there’s Rosen.
Rosen has already said he won’t change. And Keim does not want him to. However, Rosen understands how to balance his personality with making friends in his new locker room.
“That’s probably the unique reason why I get along with my teammates very well is because I’m me,” Rosen said. “Who I am at this podium and how I’m talking to you is the exact same way I’m talking to my teammates, my family, everyone. I’m very real.
“I am who I am … I didn’t try to put on a face. I didn’t try to put on a show, which is why I think I’m a perfect fit here.”
And the more time Keim spent with Rosen, the more Keim liked what he learned.
“The last few months everything is really just hearsay,” Keim said. “It’s smokescreens. With this young man, because he was such a highly touted player coming out, again, there’s been so much information about him for three straight years.
“Again, we have a tendency to over-evaluate players -- fall in love with their mechanics and their footwork and the way they throw the football and then pick them apart in the spring and that’s just a natural tendency. The more we got to spend time with Josh and get to know the person, I think the more excited we even got about the player.”
Keim, who joined the Cardinals as a scout in 1999, said he felt more time was spent evaluating the person rather than the player with this crop of quarterbacks than in years past.
Keim twice scouted Rosen in person and spoke with Noel Mazzone, Rosen’s offensive coordinator at UCLA his first two seasons. The Cardinals also hosted Rosen a few weeks ago.
During lunch with team president Michael Bidwill, Keim, coach Steve Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Rosen started to peel back his own layers. He told Keim about his interest in reading and studying the stock market. Keim also got a better sense of Rosen’s football acumen, and while Rosen’s “passion for the game” was questioned throughout the draft process, Keim saw all he needed to from someone he calls a “natural” leader.
After that visit, Keim felt more comfortable with not just Rosen but the idea of Rosen. And that has been part of the Cardinals’ success with taking players with some red flags.
“What we did was start to think about the personalities and I think that’s a little different,” Keim said. “Everybody’s wired differently. The great news is a lot of this position is played between the ears and this guy, in my opinion, is arguably the most intelligent in this draft.”
Rosen’s personality may have been the brightest red flag this year. Rumors and stories about Rosen’s relationships with coaches and his need for preferential treatment circulated over the past few months.
In the end Keim and Wilks trust their track record. And with children in what Wilks calls the “why” generation, they think they know Rosen too.
“He wants to know exactly what is going on,” Wilks said. “He wants to you to give him that freedom to be able to do certain things. I’ve coached a lot of different personalities and I say it all the time, ‘To make a difference, you’ve got to be different.’ So, I love his personality. He’s wired the right way.”