Last night Fox 10 in Arizona reported that the Cardinals intend to fire highly embattled rookie head coach Steve Willis, yet Michael Bidwill has decided to give GM Steve Keim another year to try to piece back the Cardinals’ current wreckage.
If this report is true—-it leaves no doubt whatsoever that Michael Bidwill is the #1 reason why the Cardinals are incompetent.
First of all, firing Steve Wilks without firing Steve Keim is unconscionable.
Not only was Keim serving his DUI suspension during the first 5 weeks of training camp—-which for a rookie head coach is a major liability—-Keim spent the 2018 off-season supposedly “retooling” the Cardinals’ offense through free agency and using 5 of the 6 draft picks on offensive players.
Even though Keim was well aware that Wilks would likely change the Cardinals’ base defense from a 34 to a 43, Keim’s personnel decisions on the defensive side of the ball were misguided and/or negligent.
If ever there was a recipe for a rookie head coach to fall flat on his face—-this was it.
But, before we move the argument forward, let’s examine Steve Keim’s consistent failures as a GM the past three off-seasons.
Keim’s 2016 Off-Season Moves (in reaction to losing the NFCCG to Carolina, 49-15):
- With a year remaining on Tyrann Mathieu’s contract, with Mathieu coming off his 2nd major knee injury, Keim awards Mathieu a 5 year $60M contract with $40M guaranteed.
- Trade: DE Chandler Jones obtained for the Cardinals’ 2016 2nd round pick and G Jonathan Cooper.
- UFA signings: S Tyvon Branch, CB Asa Jackson, G Evan Mathis
- Key Free Agent Lost: LB/DE Dwight Freeney.
Analysis: The Jones trade was a coup. Mathieu struggled and looked sluggish. Branch struggled with injuries (per his history). Jackson was cut. Mathis, coming off a back injury, lasted 4 games, before going on IR. Keim projected Justin Bethel as the starting CB, but Bethel was still coping with a foot injury and 3rd round project CB Brandon Williams was torched and then benched. Keim decided to go with an undrafted rookie long snapper, whose errant snap contributed to Chandler Catanzaro’s missed FG at the end of the opening night loss to the Patriots—-which Bruce Arians said demoralized and dispirited the team so badly that they never recovered from it. From “All or Nothing” to “0-1 and Done.”
Keim’s 2017 Off-Season Moves:
- Biggest in-house reward contract went to DE Chandler Jones—-5 years at $82.5M with $53M guaranteed.
- Keim’s 2nd big in-house reward contract went to volatile TE Jermaine Gresham— 4 years at $28M with $16.5M guaranteed.
- FA signings: K Phil Dawson, C Tony Bergstrom, S Antoine Bethea, LB Karlos Dasnby, QB Blaine Gabbert, LB Jarvis Jones, CB Jumal Rolle.
- Key Free Agents Lost: DE Calais Campbell, CB Marcus Cooper, S Tony Jefferson, S D.J. Swearinger, OLB/DE Alex Okafor.
Analysis: Jones was outstanding. Gresham struggled and remained penalty prone. Dawson was uncharacteristically erratic. Bergstrom was traded for a conditional pick (but was cut by the Ravens). Bethea was the lone bright spot, though not the intimidator at FS that D.J. Swearinger was. Dansby tried to play through injuries but was only a shell of his old self. Gabbert took over when Palmer and Stanton were injured and seemed to regress with each start. Jarvis Jones was injured and never played a snap. Rolle was cut.
Keim’s 2018 Off-Season Moves:
- Biggest in-house regard contract: David Johnson, 3 years at $39M (with incentives up to $45M) and $30M guaranteed. Johnson had one year remaining on his rookie deal.
- 2nd biggest in-house contract: picking up Deone Bucannon’s $8.7M 5th year option.
- Biggest FA signing: QB Sam Bradford to a 2 year, $40M contract (with games played incentives) with $15M guaranteed.
- FA signings: CB Bene Benwikere, WR Brice Butler, LB Jeremy Cash, FB Derrick Coleman, QB Mike Glennon, WR Cobi Hamilton, DE Benson Mayowa, G Justin Pugh, T Andre Smith, CB Marcus Williams.
- Trade: 2020 6th round pick to the Browns for CB Jamar Taylor
- Key Players Lost: S Tyrann Mathieu, WR John Brown, RB Adrian Peterson, CB Tramon Williams, WR Jaron Brown, T Jared Veldheer (traded), G Earl Watford, DE Kareem Martin, DT Xavier Williams.
Analysis: Johnson has not run as hard or as explosively as he did in 2016. Bradford was an immediate bust. Bucannon has remained injury-prone and highly unreliable. Bewikere was cut, despite being 4th on the team in tackles for a team with tackling issues. His replacements don’t tackle anyone. Butler was cut. Cash was off to a great start in PS game 1, but tore an ACL. Coleman isn’t being used. Glennon has been supportive of Josh Rosen and has played well in mop-up duty. Hamilton was cut. Mayowa has been a bright spot at DE. Pugh was inconsistent and like last year, succumbed to injuries. Andre Smith was inconsistent and was cut a few weeks ago. Marcus Williams was cut. Jamar Taylor was a bust at RCB and was cut during the season.
Throughout Steve Keim’s 6 Years:
- Didn’t draft a QBOF until 2018. But, didn’t pair the rookie QB with a competent OC and intended to sit the young QB for 1-2 years.
- His offensive lines have been the worst or near the worst in the NFL.
- Has never signed or drafted an impact TE.
- Has never signed or drafted an impact ILB.
- Has never settled on a reliable RCB opposite Patrick Peterson.
- Has never been able to settle on a reliable kicker.
- Has only signed two of his draft picks, Tyrann Mathieu and David Johnson, to 2nd contracts—-and now Mathieu has been cut (costing the team $40M) and Johnson is looking as tentative as Mathieu did after he got his money.
- None of Keim’s 1st round draft picks to date have signed 2nd contracts or have warranted them.
- Over the past 3 years, Keim has only signed one outside 5th year UFA to a long-term deal: G Justin Pugh.
- Has relied heavily on signing veteran free agents in their 30s.
The holes that Steve Keim leaves in his rosters year after year are costing the team wins.
His numerous high end misses are costing the Cardinals millions of dollars.
His handling of his own free agents has been a poor PR hit for the Cardinals around the league.
In my opinion, Steve Keim’s early success got to his head. Since then he has been one of the laziest GMs in the NFL. He doesn’t get first cracks at any of the top free agents, so he just goes with easy older veteran signings or players who come with injury histories. Former players are taking swipes at the Cardinals, and with good reason. The national PR fallout of the Tyrann Mathieu situation was damaging, particularly seeing how well Mathieu is playing with the Texans. This—-on the heels of losing Calais Campbell, the prize free agent of the 2017 class. It didn’t help matters either when John Brown exposed the Cardinals for their mistreatment of him last year.
Steve Wilks deserves a lot better than what he got from Steve Keim. Without question, Wilks has made his fair share of mistakes—-as rookie head coaches are wont to do—-especially on teams where the personnel doesn’t fit the coach’s systems and philosophies. But, the one person more than any other who is responsible for the mess that Wilks inherited is Steve Keim.
Thus, if the Fox 10 report is true that Wilks will be fired and Keim will be retained—-then, the blame for this current chapter of Cardinals’ incompetence rests squarely on the shoulders on Michael Bidwill—-because obviously he is enabling it—-and even rewarding it with unwarranted raises and contract extensions.