The Arizona Cardinals currently serve as the NFL's version of Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity War. They're surveying all of the possible futures to determine which path is the best option for all involved.
When the Carolina Panthers' deal with the Chicago Bears for the No. 1 overall pick became official, the third overall selection became the initial inflection point for the 2023 NFL draft.
The Panthers and Texans are essentially locked into quarterback selections at the top of this year's draft. With two signal-callers off the board that quickly, other QB-needy squads will look at the third choice, realize the Cardinals are set with Kyler Murray behind center and see the Indianapolis Colts, who are desperate for a young franchise quarterback, own the fourth selection.
The Cardinals could trade down, especially with a new general manager, coaching staff, philosophies and systems being put into place. Multiple suitors should inquire about the price to move into the third slot.
Arizona could also take the best player available and add a premium talent to a subpar roster.
General manager Monti Ossenfort may not be the Sorcerer Supreme, but he must weigh a myriad of possibilities. The following are the most likely outcomes for this year's third overall draft pick based on either level of desperation by other teams or simply the most logical pathway for the Cardinals.
5. Lions Leapfrog Colts to Land Franchise QB
The Detroit Lions seem quite content with Jared Goff as their quarterback. Maybe they shouldn't be.
The Lions showed tremendous progress last season with the 28-year-old leading the way. They finished fourth overall in total offense, while the 2016 No. 1 overall pick threw for 4,438 yards and a 29-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
But general manager Brad Holmes must also face the realities of his team's current setup.
Goff has only two remaining years on his current deal, and his contract has a built-in escape hatch after this season. The Lions can save $26.7 million and would have only a $5 million dead cap hit if they release him next offseason, according to Spotrac.
No one views Goff as a top-shelf starting quarterback, He comfortably resides somewhere between 12-20 when ranking the league's signal-callers. The Los Angeles Rams traded for Matthew Stafford because head coach Sean McVay understood that Goff excels as a cog within the system but lacks the qualities to create and elevate.
The Lions may not be the most obvious candidate to trade up, but they should seriously consider it. They currently own the sixth and 18th overall draft picks. A move up three spots shouldn't warrant both first-round selections. But Detroit has flexibility with the extra pick to make a move for a quarterback that may need some time to develop and still address another need area.
Florida's Anthony Richardson is the most naturally gifted quarterback in this year's class, though he's also further behind on the development curve compared to Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, Alabama's Bryce Young and Kentucky's Will Levis. A year of Richardson sitting behind Goff could help the Lions win in the short term and get even better at quarterback over the long haul.
The Seattle Seahawks should arguably consider making this same move, although they might be in position to select the QB4 with the fifth overall pick if they're patient and no other squad makes a move. Besides, Seattle is likely locked into Geno Smith's new contract for at least two years.
4. Titans Make Big Leap Near Top of Draft
Among the teams currently sitting outside of the top 10 in this year's draft, the Tennessee Titans might have the most incentive to move up to No. 3.
The Titans already took the first step toward rebuilding this offseason. New general manager Ran Carthon shed bloated contracts by releasing veterans who are no longer in the team's long-term plans.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan, center Ben Jones, kicker Randy Bullock, wide receiver Robert Woods, linebacker Zach Cunningham and edge-defender Bud Dupree are all gone. The next step is finding the team's future quarterback.
Ryan Tannehill's contract is up after this season. He'll be 35 in July. The Titans almost certainly won't want to go into next offseason agreeing to pay an aging quarterback $30-plus million per season.
Moving up from No. 11 to the top three is a rather large leap, but it's far from unprecedented. The Los Angeles Rams once acquired the first overall pick from the Titans by moving up from the 15th slot.
Tennessee is well within striking distance of the No. 3 pick. Carthon and head coach Mike Vrabel might want to leapfrog the division-rival Indianapolis Colts and select their next franchise quarterback.
3. Falcons Trade Up to Secure Another QB
Do the Falcons believe Desmond Ridder can be their long-term answer at quarterback? If they have any doubt, they should go all-in to make their next big investment in the position.
A recent third-round pick shouldn't prevent any organization from addressing the game's most important position if it isn't definitively filled.
The Falcons hedged their bet by signing Taylor Heinicke to a two-year, $14 million contract, but he's nothing more than a backup or a veteran bridge. They can release him next summer and be left with only a $2 million dead cap hit, per Spotrac.
The Falcons could go into this season hoping that Ridder shows he's the long-term answer. If he doesn't, Heinicke is a capable veteran to keep the offense afloat.
But general manager Terry Fontenot must ask himself a simple question: What's the upside? Both Ridder and Heinicke are capable, but neither projects as a possible top-10 or even top-15 quarterback.
As owners of the eighth overall pick, the Falcons already saw a division rival that originally sat one selection behind them jump all the way to the top spot. Once the Panthers select their quarterback of choice, Atlanta will have the third-best quarterback setup in the NFC South at most (depending on how Baker Mayfield performs with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
Great running game or not, the Falcons can't enter this season knowing they'll be at a disadvantage on a weekly basis because of their quarterbacks. They might not trade up to No. 3, but it shouldn't be because they didn't try.
2. Cardinals Stand Pat, Take Top Defender
The Cardinals don't have to trade the No. 3 overall pick. They could just stand pat, take the best available player and immediately make their roster better.
Bleacher Report's Scouting Department grades Alabama edge-rusher Will Anderson Jr. as the best overall talent in the entire class.
"The best way to describe Will Anderson Jr.'s college tape is that everything just looked easy for him," B/R scout Matt Holder said. "From his movement skills to how effortlessly he took on blocks, it almost looked like he was getting bored out there."
Anderson has the potential to be a game-wrecker in the NFL.
Over the last two seasons, the two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year accumulated a staggering 48 tackles for loss and 27.5 sacks against the best possible competition at the collegiate level. He's equally a powerful pass-rusher with the burst and bend to beat offensive tackles as he is a tone-setting run-defender.
Anderson is a franchise building block on defense to establish new head coach Jonathan Gannon's scheme and help offset the losses of Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt, Zach Allen and Marcus Golden over the last 12 months.
The addition of an elite prospect would be wise. But new Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort understands the leverage the franchise currently holds.
"It's a position that I hope we're not in too many more years," Ossenfort told reporters during the NFL combine. "We'll be prepared to pick a player at No. 3 and also our phones will be open, and I'm open to hearing any conversation about anybody that's willing to come up. I think with that No. 3 pick, it's an opportunity to add a player and it's an opportunity to potentially get some calls on that pick."
Ossenfort is 100 percent correct in his assessment. While selecting Anderson may be practical, another option is even more enticing because Arizona still could land him without holding onto the third pick.
1. Cardinals, Colts Swap Selections
The Indianapolis Colts seemed like a logical trade partner for the No. 1 overall pick. But Colts general manager Chris Ballard slow-played his hand and simply watched as the Carolina Panthers acquired it from the Chicago Bears instead.
"My sense, after some conversations the last few days: Colts feel pretty strongly there isn't a [Joe] Burrow/[Trevor] Lawrence in this draft, so they won't act out of desperation (and trade the farm to move up)," The Athletic's Zak Keefer reported.
However, Ballard told reporters in mid-January that he'd "do whatever it takes" if the right quarterback is available in the draft.
Ballard's patience might be rewarded. The Colts could stand pat at No. 4 and still land their preferred quarterback if they're eyeing Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. However, the idea of missing out on their preferred remaining option—assuming C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young go in the top two picks—should be unacceptable.
Maybe the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans are fine with their current quarterback setups and aren't a risk to trade up. But Indianapolis can't assume they are.
The Colts shouldn't have to surrender much to move up to No. 3. Ballard could toss a Day 2 pick the Cardinals' way. That's well worth the price of landing their preferred remaining quarterback, because no franchise is more desperate right now to address that position than the Colts.
For the Cardinals, it would be better to get something extra to go along with the top-ranked position player in this year's draft class.