The B-Gap: Three teams that should be calling the Cardinals for the third overall pick

By Sam Robb O’Hagan

Of the first four teams set to pick in the 2023 NFL Draft next Thursday, the Arizona Cardinals don’t belong.

The Carolina Panthers are going quarterback. The Texans are, too (right…?). The Colts are, one way or another, definitely going quarterback. With one of the four consensus first round quarterbacks left, the Cardinals, sitting with the third overall pick, and with Kyler Murray, lay atop a gold mine they can’t truly make the most of.

Unless, of course, they don’t pick at three.

And Adam Schefter seems to think they won’t. For a roster as depleted as Arizona’s, with a quarterback as expensive as Murray, there are few faults in the logic of trading out of the pick. Once DeAndre Hopkins is inevitably traded (star safety Budda Baker might be on his way out, too), the Cardinals’ core that started the 2021 season 7-0 will be almost completely dismantled. 

Arizona just needs players. And more picks means more players. That calculus is pretty simple.

But in a potential trade out of the third pick, the calculus for the team going in the opposite direction isn’t as easy. The third overall pick, despite the Cardinals having almost no use in keeping it, is still an extraordinarily valuable asset. The last time it was traded was in 2021, when the Miami Dolphins moved back to the 12th pick for two extra first-round picks and a third-round pick (a not-so-insignificant sweetener). 

Anyone trading up to three, presumably for a quarterback, needs to be really, really sure they need a new quarterback, and really, really sure of the player they’re trading up for. The certainty that comes with trading up to a pick with two teams that are knowingly taking a quarterback of their choice still ahead in the draft order is certainly capped. There is undeniable risk for any and every team that is hitting Arizona’s line.

Here are three teams that may just have to swallow that risk.

Indianapolis Colts

For all of the risk that comes with trading up for every other NFL team, moving up one spot to the third pick is the most risk-mitigating option for the Colts.

The Colts, unequivocally, need to leave next week’s draft with a quarterback. General Manager Chris Ballard has willingly put his head on the chopping block in pursuit of one, and his boss is so desperate for a highly-drafted passer that he’s sacrificed all of his team’s remaining leverage at any negotiating table to let everyone know it.

But the Colts are picking fourth; and there are only four quarterbacks.

Look. Maybe Indianapolis really has fallen in love with each of Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis. It would be naive to put that kind of enamorment beyond Jim Irsay. Maybe the Colts really are completely comfortable with putting their franchise in four different pairs of hands.

But if they aren’t in love with all four, Indianapolis needs to get to work. Having the choice between only two quarterbacks is significant when the alternative is having no choice at all, and the Colts only need to move up one spot.

A move to third overall, in theory, should be relatively cost-effective. Irsay’s antics won’t help the Colts leverage, but this is the corner he’s pushed himself into. The Colts need a quarterback, and with that comes needing a quarterback they like. Paying the relatively gentle price to make the one-pick hop is worth it.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders enter Thursday’s draft after spending the last seven seasons oscillating between disappointingly bad and disappointingly good. Whenever they were objectively poor, like in 2022, the story became the plethora of big, expensive names that couldn’t figure it out. And whenever they were good, like in 2021, it was immediately and consistently obvious they just weren’t great. Playoffs or not, disappointment nonetheless.

That endless lukewarm cycle felt, in large part, like a symptom of the play of their quarterback. Derek Carr was always probably good, but never definitely great, and the Raiders could never reach past his limitations. 

Las Vegas finally freed themselves from the handcuffs of Carr’s mediocrity this offseason, only to turn to the most Carr-adjacent option on the market. Jimmy Garoppolo arrives on a non-committal contract that does little more for the Raiders than spell out their new passer’s mediocrity. Garoppolo is a solid player, sure, but his arrival doesn’t so much as solve Las Vegas’ problem as it compounds it.

But the Raiders, picking seventh, are still in striking distance of a quarterback that can change all of that. There’s even an outside chance that one of the four quarterbacks will make it all the way to seven, but Las Vegas can make a proactive, gutsy, and productive push for a better future by trading up to three. And moving up four spots could likely be done without surrendering an extra first-round pick.

That’s a worthy price to pay. The Raiders have good players — really, really good players — but are trapped in a box by their inability to find extraordinary quality under center. Garoppolo, however they truly feel about him, is not the player to solve that problem. But Anthony Richardson? Bryce Young? They certainly could be.

Minnesota Vikings

Let’s clear the roadblock first.

The Vikings would be trading up nineteen spots, which means the Cardinals, in desperate need of starpower, would be dropping from the third pick to the 22nd. The compensation required to convince Arizona to do that is unprecedented and unfathomable.

For a sense, start at the 49ers trade up to the third pick in 2021, and add significantly more. How much more? Well, that’s kind of the problem for the Vikings.

Can the Vikings realistically make that happen? Can they really surrender that much value to take a swing at quarterback that is anything but a guarantee? It’s hard to get there, but Minnesota has to do something.

The Vikings are stuck in the same hard place as the Raiders — a roster with superstars at various points being drawn around in circles by a quarterback that is who he is and a front office that refuses to acknowledge it. 

Minnesota isn’t going to win a Super Bowl with Kirk Cousins. Cousins is good. He can, and has, won games. But those dozen games he can win from September to December don’t feel as significant when he can’t win four in January.

If the incomprehensible price it would take to move up to the third pick is what it would cost for the Vikings to release themselves of the purgatory they currently reside, it might just be worth it. And if the swing they take with the third pick is a hit, that enormous trade compensation will be worth it no matter what.

This won’t happen. But at the very least, the Vikings should be reaching for the phone.