clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Direction of Cardinals in 2019 Hinges on Steve Keim

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This week Steve Keim said he is relatively happy with the progress the Cardinals are making under head coach Steve Wilks and newly appointed offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

When asked about the future of Steve Wilks, Keim said that he isn’t even thinking about that—-he’s strictly thinking about the team winning football games and showing incremental improvement.

If owner and team president Michael Bidwill maintains his trust in Steve Keim as GM, then we can expect the current coaching staff to remain intact.

The reality is that it would be grossly unfair of Bidwill and Keim to fire Steve Wilks after one season when Keim was serving a 5 week suspension during most of training camp.

It is no secret that Steve Keim was enamored with Bruce Arians. Together they had a blistering three year run which culminated in 35 wins, one NFC West title and a trip to the 2015 NFL Championship game.

During that torrid three year stretch, Steve Keim won an executive of the year award and a hefty pay increase via a contract extension. Keim deftly pulled off the trade for QB Carson Palmer and a number of slick ultra team (cap) friendly 1 year ‘prove it” deals for veterans who made significant short-term contributions to the team’s success.

Alas—-for all of that winning—-only 1 playoff game win—-and then a total dismantling of the team by the Carolina Panthers in the 2015 NFC Championship game

As Bruce Arians so ominously portended, “it’s a short ride from the penthouse to the outhouse.”

Arians’ failing health and growing acrimony toward underachieving players, compounded by questionable coaching staff decisions and Steve Keim’s inability to keep attracting the best fits in free agency and the draft, led to a slow and steady drop in win totals and the overall quality of play.

The main problem for Steve Keim now has been trying to get out of the large shadow of Bruce Arians.

It was reported by several of the Cardinals’ insiders that Keim was all in favor of promoting BA’s top candidate, James Bettcher, to head coach, and in pairing Bettcher with OC Mike McCoy.

Michael Bidwill had other ideas. Bidwill wanted more of a clean break from the Arians regime.

Thus a compromise was reached—-Steve Wilks as head coach with Mike McCoy as OC.

As is the often the risk with compromises—-neither party may wind up satisfied.

Steve Keim isn’t even thinking about Steve Wilks—-because he knows Wilks is Bidwill’s guy.

Thus—-the most significant question is—-is Keim still Bidwill’s guy?

If you are Michael Bidwill, you are probably not too happy with how Steve Wilks has been hog-tied at the hands by Steve Keim’s five week absence during the most critical weeks of team building and roster shaping—-and how Wilks was tied at the feet by Mike McCoy’s colossally inept version of an offense.

In both cases—-Steve Keim bears the onus of the responsibility.

Therefore, the key decision Michael Bidwill needs to make over the next couple of months is whether to stay the course with Steve Keim.

If Bidwill offers his support of Keim, then Steve Wilks will remain the head coach, very likely with Byron Leftwich as the OC.

If Bidwill decides to move on from Keim, then much will depend on the short and long term vision of the new GM. Most likely, that would mean a new coaching staff.

It would make little sense to keep Keim and fire Wilks, especially seeing as there could 10 head coaching vacancies and if the Cardinals once again are the last ones to the party and the last one on the top candidates’ list, then they could be worse off than where they were last year.

If Keim remains, then he is going to have to prove once and for all that he can piece together a talented and durable offensive line—-and he has to show that he can adapt to Steve Wilks’ pressing personnel needs in transforming the Cardinals’ base defense to the 43.

In addition, a major decision needs to be made about the future of Patrick Peterson. Peterson wants out of Arizona and he may force the Cardinals’ hand by holding out in demanding a new contract that would make him the highest paid CB in the NFL. The odds of Peterson accepting the current status quo are very slim. Steve Keim needs to make the best possible decision for the organization in this regard.

Are you confident that Steve Keim can accomplish those goals?

In the NFL perceptions are often realities. Under Keim’s watch the popularity of the organization amongst NFL players, pundits and fans has steadily dwindled. Former Cardinals’ players continue to express contempt for the way the Cardinals handle their business. One of the main problems is that the vast majority of the players that Keim signed to lowball prove-it contracts were not rewarded with second contracts, after they proved themselves worthy. Teams can keep getting away with making bargain, cap friendly deals if they are perennial Super Bowl contenders—-but when that is no longer the case—-it’s a hard sell—-especially when a number of free agents (especially their own) keep using the word “insulting” to describe Keim’s offers. This is why Keim resorts so quickly to signing veterans in their 30s at low salaries, because they are desperate victims of a system that rewards teams compensatory draft picks for not signing veterans.

Can Steve Keim turn around such perceptions?

I’m not sure that he can. But, I imagine he would be highly motivated to do so, that is, if he recognizes the reasons why the Cardinals’ popularity amongst the players is now at an all-time low. If the players weren’t getting their arses chewed out publicly and privately by BA and BA’s coaches—-they were getting low ball offers from Steve Keim—-or in the case of Tyrann Mathieu—-they were getting cut. Not an auspicious combination.