Since he took over in 2013 and revitalized a struggling Cardinals team with one of the most vital off-seasons in franchise history, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim has won two G.M. of the Year awards, including one by the Associated Press only a year ago.
Now, entering a 2016 season in which the Cardinals went from a Super Bowl contender to a top 13 pick, Keim has his work cut out for him. He’ll be relying on re-signing key guys in free agency and adding players in the draft, as well as convincing Larry Fitzgerald (and Carson Palmer?) to return to the team in 2017.
Is Keim still the right man for the job? Let’s take a look at his moves year to year and see how he’s done.
Trades: Carson Palmer, 6th round & conditional draft pick
Free Agency Booms: Rashad Johnson 3-year deal, Frostee Rucker (re-signed 2-year deal), Drew Stanton (re-signed), Matt Shaughnessy, Karlos Dansby, Jerraud Powers, Eric Winston, John Abraham
Free Agency Busts: Rashard Mendenhall, Released O’Brien Schofield, Jasper Brinkley, Yeremiah Bell
Draft Hits: Tyrann Mathieu, Kevin Minter, Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor
Draft Misses: Jonathan Cooper, Ryan Swope, Alex Okafor, Earl Watford
Overall Grade: B+
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh with this grade. After all, Keim not only brought in a franchise quarterback for the price of a 6th rounder and signed three valuable impact starters for the next three years in Johnson/Powers/Rucker but even added Tyrann Mathieu as a steal in the 3rd round and a starting ILB (eventually) in the second. Minter has turned into a nice find after spending his first two years on the bench.
Don’t forget Eric Winston being the late RT add that might have saved Palmer’s hide even more than if Sowell and Massie had been his tackles all season long.
The entire core of the team was worked over and Arizona became competitive almost overnight once the offense caught onto Arians’ scheme. How is a franchise-changing season like this not an A+ or an A?
Well, it starts with the first pick of the Keim/Arians regime, and a top 10 bust at that in Jonathan Cooper. While talented, he got hurt and was never the same after his injury and seemed to struggle with his work ethic and mental assignments. Keim’s other picks weren’t honestly too bad considering the low cost, but the fact is that part of the reason Arizona went 7-8-1 this year was a failure to address the guard position with Cooper. A costly one that has turned into one expensive problem for Arizona.
It was basically a waste of a top 10 pick, one that’s hurting Arizona to this day.
And while Keim is remembered for his one-year deals in part due to this season, he had a few who flopped in Mendenhall, Brinkley and Bell. He also let Schofield walk to the Seahawks where he terrorized Arizona’s poor offensive tackles for a few years before leaving for Atlanta.
But this is nitpicking.
All in all, Keim brought a new wave of change and provided hope for the Cardinals in one single offseason, something that is difficult for any general manager at any level to accomplish. Alright--a long first year but with 50+ roster moves it had to be. Let’s move on to the next season:
Trades: Traded down w/ Saints for a 3rd round pick
Free Agency Booms: Jared Veldheer 4-year deal, Antonio Cromartie, Ted Larson, Darren Fells (signed late 2014) Larry Foote
Free Agency Busts: Ted Ginn Jr., John Carlson, Jonathan Dwyer
Draft Hits: Deone Bucannon, John Brown, Ed Stinson
Draft Misses: Troy Niklas, Kareem Martin, Logan Thomas, Walter Powell
The Cardinals under Keim in 2014 really addressed their two biggest needs: offensive line and improving their defense.
Say what you will about Ted Larson, he had quite an impact, though not quite the same as a franchise left tackle in Jared Veldheer. The Cardinals owe Reggie McKenzie a lot (and as he was able to get Carr, Mack and Donald Penn, he probably doesn’t mind) and they even got a resurgent year out of Antonio Cromartie and found a rookie stud in John Brown.
But all that might pale to the fact that Arizona lost Dansby and Daryl Washington in the same offseason and were able to replace the impact with a one-year deal to Larry Foote and the remarkable story of Deone Bucannon, who basically originated a new position in the NFL and way to use smaller linebackers.
Drew Stanton also showed his mettle, filling in well enough for Palmer for Arizona to reach the playoffs.
That said, it’s easy to forget that they signed Ted Ginn Jr. to a three-year deal and he hardly saw the field outside of seemingly making mistakes or dropping punts and passes. Troy Niklas was as healthy in 2014 as he was this last season...which is to say not at all.
In short, Keim added core pieces to the team and found a few one-year deals that managed to be impact, but also had a few high draft picks on positions that have left Arizona still in need of an upgrade, even two years later.
Trades: Trade up in draft for Rodney Gunter
Free Agency Hits: Mike Iupati, Cory Redding, Corey Peters, Lyle Sendlein, Jermaine Gresham, Chris Johnson, A.Q. Shipley, Dwight Freeney
Free Agency Misses: LaMarr Woodley, Sean Weatherspoon
Draft Hits: David Johnson, Markus Golden, Rodney Gunter
Draft Misses: Shaq Riddick, Gerald Christian
Jury’s Out: D.J. Humphries, J.J. Nelson
This grade is, I’ll admit, somewhat incomplete while the status of D.J. Humphries and J.J. Nelson as starters or contributors moving forward is somewhat unknown.
But what can be said about the Cardinals landing David Johnson and Markus Golden? Johnson ended the season on a tear and ended up just shy of a 1,000/1,000 yard season and tied a record set by Barry Sanders while Golden ended up with 13 sacks on the season. Even Rodney Gunter has seen early success in the league.
As for Free Agency, while signing Mike Iupati from the rival Niners was a surprise (and while at times he’s been suspect in pass protection) he’s been the anchor of the left guard spot that Arizona has needed and has been part of David Johnson’s remarkable start to his career.
Even Chris Johnson was a stud until his injury and David Johnson’s streak began.
If there’s a complaint to be had, it’s that the class started off slow, with Humphries sitting on the bench the whole year, and while Keim didn’t deal with too many injuries, he saw the most successful season the Cardinals have had.
Trades: 2nd to New England for Chandler Jones, traded conditional 7th to Chiefs for Marcus Cooper
Free Agency Hits: Sio Moore
Free Agency Misses: Evan Mathis, Tyvon Branch, letting Rashad Johnson &
Up in the air: Signed Justin Bethel to 3-year deal
Draft Hits (early): Evan Boehm, Harlan Miller
Draft Misses (early): Robert Nkemdiche, Brandon Williams, Marqui Christian
I think you can see the trend in part as to why Arizona had such a difficult season.
The big move and biggest impact on the team was the trade for Chandler Jones, obviously, which landed Arizona at the top of the NFL leaderboard in sacks between him, Campbell and
Keim had a down year, especially in free agency. The only notable player Keim signed who had a direct impact on the team was Sio Moore, with only a few games left to play in the season.
Keim whiffing on the health of Evan Mathis and counting on Tyvon Branch to stay healthy and replace Rashad Johnson’s impact on the field when he was.
They also got little-to-no impact from Robert Nkemdiche, Brandon Williams or Evan Boehm.
The good news? There’s still time for them to develop and have an impact similar to how D.J. Humphries progressed in his second year.
2017 and Beyond:
So where does this lead going forward? Keim on average went with a B+ overall, which might have been an A if not for poor returns on his 2016 class and the notable busts of Jonathan Cooper and Troy Niklas.
Obviously, as we can see from the past few years, Keim has a very balanced approach where he supplements hitting on some big picks with cheap one-year deals and occasional big splashes in free agency.
The big area for Keim next? He’s gonna have to find a way to replace Palmer and Fitzgerald, no small task indeed. Finding Quarterbacks is what makes a GM successful, and if Keim swings and misses on one this offseason, it’s going to be the beginning of a downward trend until he can...or someone else does.
Hey, that’s how it is in the National Football League.
All in all, he’s had a positive first few years with one stumbling block in 2016.
With so many of his own players to re-sign, however, this might be the first year where Keim may have to go against his own background to keep Arizona in the limelight.
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