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Cardinals GM recalls passing over Russell Wilson in draft: “It was a chickensh*t call by me”

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The 2012 class of quarterbacks is headed in the direction of being one of the great QB classes in NFL history. There are currently six teams slated to start a QB who was drafted in 2012 (Seahawks, Colts, Browns, Texans, Dolphins, Redskins), and two others have played a significant amount in four years (Brandon Weeden, Nick Foles). At first glance, you could pick apart the fact that just because they’re starting, that doesn’t mean they’re good, but I think you’d be overestimating just how difficult it is to find a starter in this league.

The 2013 class has zero starting QBs headed into this season, the best of whom is maybe Mike Glennon or Geno Smith.

The 2014 class has Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, and Derek Carr, which gives that group a decent amount of current starting QBs for the NFL, but still half as many as 2012. There’s also Jimmy Garoppolo, though he’ll likely be riding the bench again in Week 5 and if he doesn’t perform well, could soon be going the way of Foles or someone else who had a great opportunity and fumbled it away. Also in the 2014 class: Logan Thomas.

The Arizona Cardinals selected Thomas with the 120th overall pick. Not an elite prospect, but also fairly high for a quarterback. You might also call it extremely high for a QB who was released after only one season. The Cardinals took the athletically-gifted Thomas and tried to stash him on the roster behind Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton with the hope that he may blossom into a definite heir apparent within his first 18 months in the league, but when that didn’t happen for them, they moved on.

It’s not an insignificant move for a franchise that hadn’t drafted a QB above the fifth round since taking Matt Leinart 10th overall in 2006. Since that failure, Arizona picked John Skelton in the fifth round in 2010 and then Ryan Lindley in the sixth round two years later, while making a pair of trades that as we’ll recount in a second, Seattle narrowly avoided.

Yes, the Cardinals were involved in the 2012 class of quarterbacks, but at a much, much less-fruitful level.

While Seattle and Indianapolis may have found their franchise QBs that year, Arizona most certainly did not. Lindley started six games in his career for the Cards and went 1-5, throwing two touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In a forced playoff start against the Carolina Panthers, Lindley threw two more interceptions as the offense managed just 78 total yards. Lindley was perhaps the worst QB from that (or any) class to start an NFL game.

But as current GM Steve Keim recalls, it didn’t have to be that way.

As told to the MMQB, Keim — who was vice president of player personnel in 2012 — dismissed someone who he should have known as well as anyone entering the league that year.

"Look, I'm from North Carolina State. I study all the guys out of there hard," Keim told The MMQB. "But I just didn't think there was a good comp for Russell Wilson, and I was wrong. When I think back now, it was a chickens--- call by me. I didn't have the balls to take Russell Wilson."

Interestingly enough, the Cards are one of the few teams that only passed up Wilson once in the draft. They picked Michael Floyd 13th overall and then didn’t pick again until 80th because they traded their second round pick for Kevin Kolb, a QB who was also being coveted by the Seahawks in 2011. Why didn’t Seattle pull the trigger on Kolb? From a 2011 article on the subject:

“Just compensation and amount and all the stuff,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It was a big consideration. He’s a very good player. We thought that from the start and we’re always in the thought that he would be a guy that we would be interested in for the future, but it just didn’t work out right.”

Instead, the Hawks held onto the picks they would have had to give up for Kolb and signed Tarvaris Jackson, biding their time for another year while they kept investing in the defense. In 2012, they signed Matt Flynn as a veteran option that would cost them zero draft picks, and as you well know, took Wilson with the 75th pick. (The Oakland Raiders hold the distinction of being the only team to not pass up Wilson at all, since they didn’t pick until 95th ... Why not? Partially because of their move to acquire a QB as well: Carson Palmer, current starter for the Arizona Cardinals. Another move not made by Seattle, and definitely one bandied about since Carroll guided Palmer to the Heisman trophy in 2003. After all, they kicked the tires on Leinart in 2011 and 2013. Isn’t in funny how incestual this entire article about colleges, teams, trades, drafts, and QBs is? That’s how important every detail of franchise rebuilding is.)

Keim had more to say about his scouting blunder:

"There's this thing scouts talk about -- comps,'" Keim said. "It's comparables (to similar NFL players), and for Wilson, who were they? Who at quarterback has had success in the NFL under 6-feet tall? Fran Tarkenton? Maybe Doug Flutie. But like (Seahawks GM) John Schneider said to Pete Carroll before the draft, 'Aside from his height, what's wrong with him?' Nothing."

And that still continues to be the matter-of-fact history about Wilson and the 2012 draft: He was the perfect QB prospect in every way except for his height. Nobody really ever goes back to 2012 and talks about how Wilson had all these flaws in his game that we couldn’t have assumed he’d just fix at the next level — like a Logan Thomas or Ryan Lindley, for example — they can only talk about the fact that no QB of his height had succeeded in the modern (and other than Tarkenton, pre-modern) game. So everyone (except the Raiders), kept passing him over.

Arizona ended up starting four quarterbacks that season: Kolb, Lindley, Skelton, and Brian Hoyer. (Their two recent draft picks, Skelton and Lindley, combined for two touchdowns and 16 interceptions.) They went 5-11 and then traded for Palmer in 2013, but nothing compares to the benefit the Seahawks received from not having to trade any picks (including first and second rounders in some cases) or having to spend $10+ million dollars annually on a QB. Seattle used a third round pick on Wilson and paid him relatively nothing for his first four seasons in the NFL, going to two Super Bowls and winning one.

The Cardinals could have made a bold move to trade up from 80 and to take Wilson before the Seahawks had their chance, but instead they stood pat and took cornerback Jamell Fleming; like Thomas, Fleming didn’t make it to his second season in Phoenix.

Did Keim learn from his mistake? He seems to have the obvious regret that you’d think almost every GM should have now from passing up Wilson (including the risk on the part of Schneider to wait until 75), but I will say this: They just passed up Dak Prescott three times and Palmer is 38.

Will the Cowboys’ blog be writing a similar article to this one in four years?