It started off poorly for the Cardinals, but ended with positive vibes. Nascent general manager Monti Ossenfort pulled off two trades within four picks of the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday, then selected offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. with the sixth overall selection.
There had been chatter in recent days that Johnson might be on the team’s radar if the Cardinals wound up using their third overall pick. They ended up getting him three choices later in a trade with the Lions that also included their second-round pick (34th overall), which was one slot later than the 33rd overall choice they received in the trade with the Texans that moved them from third to 12th in the round.
However, that deal also netted the Cardinals first- and third-round picks in 2024, while they additionally sent Houston a fourth-round choice (105th overall). The first-rounder is the Texans’ own pick, not the one they acquired last year from Cleveland for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The trade with the Lions also included the Cardinals adding a third-round pick (81st overall) and sending Detroit a fifth-round choice (168th overall). No wonder Ossenfort told reporters afterward, “It was exciting.”
Of course, he wasn’t excited by an announcement that came just before the draft began. In an offseason marked by off-field controversy, the team essentially negotiated a trade with the Eagles for tampering with new coach Jonathan Gannon by talking to him after Philadelphia’s NFC Championship Game victory.
“I made a mistake. I own that,” Ossenfort said. “You know, it’s a situation that we were able to resolve. I’ve apologized to [owner] Michael Bidwill, I’ve apologized to our staff, and I think the deal that we worked out it is what it is, and we’re just moving on from it and really don’t have a lot more to say on it.”
The Cardinals were said to have self-reported the violation which begs the question: Why would they do that unless they knew they would be caught and that the discipline might have been worse?
NFL rules clearly spell out the permissible times when teams can talk to possible head coaches, so it’s stunning that Ossenfort would make that mistake. As it was, the Cardinals and Eagles will swap picks three and 31 in the third round, a significant change. The Cardinals will then receive a fifth-round pick from the Eagles in the 2024 draft.
Thanks to the trade with the Lions, the Cardinals will enter Day 2 with picks 18, 31 and 97 (compensatory) in that round.
Understandably, Ossenfort wanted the focus on Johnson, who played left tackle at Ohio State last season after playing left guard the year before. With D.J. Humphries returning, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Johnson begin his career with the Cardinals at left guard.
Most notable is that Johnson was hoping to land in Arizona 24 years after his father, safety Paris Johnson Sr. from Miami, Ohio, was a Cardinals fifth-round pick in 1999. Ossenfort said that when Johnson was in town for his 30-visit recently, he told him, “I want to be here. I want to be a Cardinal and finish what my dad started.”
Johnson confirmed that and said, “I wanted to express to him what was in my heart.” At the start of the draft, Johnson said, “For the first two picks, I was just chillin’. Then for the third pick, I was staring at my phone the entire fricking time.”
He didn’t think he’d last until 12 because of other teams looking for a tackle. He went to the bathroom and came back to a phone call at pick six and wondered, “Am I going to Detroit?”
He quickly learned it was the Cardinals.
Johnson also met quarterback Kyler Murray during his visit and was blown away by what happened. First calling Murray “a beast” and adding that “I’ve been watching him since I was in high school,” he then reflected on meeting Murray.
“I was walking past him, gave him a head nod, and he said, ‘Hey Paris, come here,’” Johnson said. “I reached for my phone and texted my (Ohio State) teammate (center) Luke (Wypler) and I said, ‘Dude, Kyler knows my frickin’ first name!’
“I’ve never met him in my life. All I did was give a head nod. And he says, ‘Come here, let’s talk.’ From that moment, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is real. I really have a chance (to be a Cardinal.) He was like, ‘I’ve seen your tape, man, I saw your Pro Day, I saw you move, I saw you play. I’d love for you to be a Cardinal.”
Murray had made it known publicly that he hoped Johnson would be the team’s pick and when Ossenfort was asked about that, he smiled and said, “Someone told me that. Maybe we should get him on the scouting staff, get him on the road and look at some guys.”
Ossenfort and his staff surely loved everything about Johnson because of his ability to play guard or tackle and being “a high-character individual.” Johnson started a foundation in high school that won the 2022 Armed Forces Merit Award for its work in raising over $10,000 to assist military veterans, student-athletes, and the homeless.
Of course, on the field is where he will be expected to excel. Asked where he prefers to play on the line, Johnson said, “I’m most comfortable anywhere. I can play anywhere. I’m so excited to use my versatility to help the team.”
There was persistent speculation during the day about potential trades involving wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. None of them materialized and when asked about Hopkins being traded, Ossenfort said, “I don’t foresee that happening. I don’t know what is going to happen in the next couple days, but right now, I don’t foresee that happening.”
Asked to clarify whether he meant for the rest of the first round or the entire draft, Ossenfort specified the entire draft. Then, when asked if it was possible he could end up staying in Arizona, the general manager said, “Absolutely . . . “DeAndre is a Cardinal. DeAndre is a Cardinal and we’re moving forward.”
Whether that’s more smoke being blown to entice other teams or is actually reality is anyone’s guess. Which, naturally, is par for the course in the NFL.
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