TEMPE – Ahead of the inaugural NFL Draft of the Monti Ossenfort and Jonathan Gannon era, the Arizona Cardinals appear to be staring down the barrel of a rebuild.
However, don’t tell that to the rookie head coach, who spent the past two seasons leading the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense.
“I don’t like the word ‘rebuild,’” Gannon told reporters Friday. “Our sole focus is to win football games.”
That said, the Cardinals have the third overall pick in this week’s draft, which kicks off Thursday at 4 p.m. Arizona time. While there are questions about whether the Cardinals intend to use the No. 3 pick or trade it, Ossenfort said the decision will be based on what’s best for the team.
“If a trade makes sense and it’s the right decision for our team at the time, then we’ll do it,” said Ossenfort, who was hired to replace Steve Keim on Jan. 16. “If the right move is to sit and pick a player who we’ve done a lot of work on throughout the (scouting) process, then we’ll be prepared to do that.”
But what will the Cardinals look for in prospective draft picks this week and in the future? Gannon likened building a roster to creating a painting. In the end, it’s the composition that matters.
“We can have different colors and different brushes, but you’ve got to stay inside the canvas,” Gannon said. “There’s a lot of different players that bring things to the table that can help us win games.”
Regardless of the Cardinals’ decision with their first-round pick, the team’s key decision-makers will spend the coming days going through a bevy of draft scenarios and mapping out how the selections Carolina and Houston make ahead of them could cause them to pivot in who they select, or whether they make a deal.
“(Mock drafts) help us in that process,” Ossenfort said. “Some of those are crazy. But, in all honesty, the crazy ones could be more accurate.”
The Cardinals’ draft board is nearly complete, and the tandem of Ossenfort and Gannon have been in lockstep on specific players they would like to select with their eight picks, thanks in part to their backgrounds in scouting.
Ossenfort had multiple stints with the New England Patriots, winning three Super Bowl titles in multiple scouting and director roles. Gannon spent two seasons as a scout for the St. Louis Rams in 2009 and 2010.
“(Gannon) understands a way of looking at players,” Ossenfort said. “Jonathan knows what we ask our scouts to do … that brings a really unique perspective and appreciation for what the guys on our side of the office do.”
Part of Ossenfort’s responsibility, however, is handling roster issues independent of the draft. This offseason, the Cardinals were also dealing with the departure of several veteran players, including their standout pass rusher J.J. Watt, and the likely trade of star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Then safety Budda Baker, the leader of their defense, reportedly requested a trade to further muddy the waters ahead of the draft.
“Myself, (Gannon), we’ve had a lot of conversations with Budda and his representation – a lot of productive conversations – and those continue to happen,” Ossenfort said. “I’ve been clear about how I feel about Budda as a person and a player and nothing about that has changed.”
Ossenfort made similar comments about Hopkins.
Meanwhile, Gannon raved about Baker when he was hired about a month after Ossenfort came aboard. However, he said it didn’t bother him to hear about the trade request or hurt his feelings.
“I like to hear all our players – how they’re feeling and what they’re going through – because each one of them are different,” Gannon said. “I know what’s in (Baker’s) heart, and I know that he’s a phenomenal person and is a phenomenal player.
“I think what a lot of narratives, or what a lot of people think are distractions, are really not if you’re focused on what you’re doing each day.”