Cardinals face big draft question: to trade or not to trade

Is a quarterback like Baker Mayfield worth the price of trading up for the Cardinals? It depends on what the price is. Scott Clarke/ESPN Image

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Will they or won't they?

That's been the question asked of the Arizona Cardinals when it comes to trading up from the 15th pick in the first round of next week's NFL draft to pick a quarterback -- at least a higher-rated quarterback -- than they'd get staying put.

It's also a question that may not be answered until sometime Thursday night. As general manager Steve Keim sits in the Cardinals' war room inside their Tempe headquarters, he'll be weighing a couple of factors that'll go into his decision to pursue a trade.

"When you look at it, it's what type of players are there for the team that's willing to trade?" Keim said. "No. 1, to trade up, you have to find a partner. No. 2, what player's on the board when that team is willing to trade."

There's also a third factor that'll be involved: What will it take to make the move?

"If it's a dynamic player at that position that is a game-changer, they're (the team trading with the Cardinals) not going to take anything short of the mortgage for the house, the farm, and everything, to come up," Keim said. "It's an inexact science and, really, at the end of the day you can throw the trade chart off your desk because you have to be willing to be able to give up what you're comfortable with."

The Cardinals currently have eight draft picks spread out over the seven rounds, with two coming in the third. Might one, or some other pick, become trade currency? It's not out of the realm of possibilities with Keim at the helm. However, trading up for a quarterback can come with significant risk, not just in the short term for Arizona, but even more so in the long term.

"Are you willing to put the franchise in a position to be set back for years if you're not right?" Keim said. "It can be crippling for us if we traded the next couple drafts to get get a player that's never taken a snap and doesn't have success.

"There's a lot of moving parts to it but at the end of the day, we've got to do the best thing for the organization."

Keim is no stranger to draft-day trades.

He's made eight since he was hired in 2013 and they've yielded six current Cardinals, including safety Budda Baker in 2017, linebacker Deone Bucannon in 2014 and defensive end Markus Golden in 2015.

And it's not always about trading up. Sometimes, the right move for the Cardinals is to trade back and acquire more picks. Even then, however, Keim will make that decision after looking at who is left on the board and how they stack up based on a prospect's grades, scouting and Arizona's needs.

However, Keim said talking about trading up can be tough -- unless he's pursuing the No. 1 pick. Then, he said, it doesn't matter who else a team covets aside from the player they'll pick. For any pick after that, however, the Cardinals will need options because there's the unknown of knowing who will be picked in which slot.

"If you're trading up to two, then you have to love two players," Keim said. "It's a sliding scale. So, for me, any of the draft-day trades that we've made or would like to make, it's usually when you're on the clock or you're getting close to being on the clock because you're sure that player you covet so much is going to be there at your pick."

For Keim to pull the trigger on a draft-day trade, he'll have to feel a certain type of passion for the player he's going up to get. And that's where the compensation comes into play.

If the player is someone Keim really wants, someone who he thinks can help the Cardinals and someone who he thinks can be a "game changer" for the franchise, then no price may be too steep.

Keim reiterated throughout his news conference Wednesday how trading is an "inexact science." He liked using the phrase "mortgaging the farm" to describe what it could take to reach a certain spot in the first round.

But the main question Keim will face when deciding whether to pursue a trade will be this: "How much is it going to impact your organization moving forward?"

And, despite the recent chatter about the Cardinals potentially moving up to snag a quarterback, it's not always as easy as Keim calling another general manager and asking if he wants to trade picks.

"We've tried to trade up in the past," Keim said. "In the past years that I've been the general manager, we've been aggressive in a lot of different areas and have tried to trade up, and you have to find the partner. That's the problem.

"Teams aren't always willing to trade. So, when people talk about, 'Just trade back,' or 'Trade up,' it’s not as easy as you think on draft day."