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What could earning a top 5 NFL draft pick tell us about the future of Steve Wilks & Steve Keim?

League averages tell a story about the brutal lifespan of NFL coaching and front office jobs...but also give the pathway to keeping your job p

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL might be the most brutal “win now and win fast” business out there. And that’s saying a lot when it comes to sports.

Yet, there are different ideas and different methods when it comes to owners and team-building as far as time it takes to win and blame to be assigned.

Some teams hold onto the same GM for decades (or the owner is the GM) and some (cough, Browns, cough) probably go through them quickly and often and struggle with building a winning culture.

This is why league averages are important to look at to tell trends and reactions, especially over time.

Below, I broke down every head coach and general manager pairing since the 2011 NFL season to ask this question:

What happens if the Arizona Cardinals end up with a top 5 draft pick to Steve Keim and Steve Wilks, using the average NFL franchise as a template?

The results definitely back up the “win now” mentality of the NFL:

Note—this isn’t “picking in the top 5” so much as finishing in the bottom 5 teams in the league, as there are teams like the Redskins and Texans who traded away those picks for quarterbacks in previous years to the Rams and Browns.

Basically, when you are just a really bad NFL team, did you keep your job or did the team move on? This helps show patterns for success or patterns of failures for teams.

So, what can we make of this? There’s clearly a LOT of firings that are taking place after teams earn top 5 picks in the NFL. Part of that is because, well, there’s a lot of turnover in the NFL regardless. But here’s the count below as far as it comes to head coaches and GM’s:

  • There are, by my count, 58 head coaches and general managers over this time, without double-counting, who landed in the bottom 5.
  • Of that number (in the top 5 ONLY), 45 out of 58 coaches and GM’s no longer have their same jobs with their current teams. That’s about 80%
  • Of that 80%, I counted 37 of those 58 HC’s and GM’s who lost their job within a calendar year (ex. kept their job but were fired next year to fired right at season’s end). 80% of the 80%
  • This means that more often than not so there’s around a 65% chance that Wilks/Keim are both gone by the end of 2019. However....
  • There were 13 head coaches and GM’s who kept their jobs, (with some of them being special cases such as Jerry Jones or John Elway)
  • However, of those who kept their jobs, 11 of 13 of those survivors were general managers.

So what does this mean for the Cardinals?

Let’s break it down....

The biggest takeaway is that earning a top 5 pick in the NFL or losing bad enough to be a bottom 5 team in the NFL is....not good.


More often than not, you’re out of a job pretty quickly if you can’t win because that’s the NFL for you. Patience isn’t one of their virtues.

And even teams that DO keep their general manager and head coach after losing into a bottom 5 NFL team? The next year they’re often gone even if kept. Usually even if they do improve their record.

Someone’s gotta pay with their jobs for losing.

This means that there’s not a lot of hope for the Keim/Wilks regime should the Cardinals lose out and end up with a top 5 pick for the 2019 draft. Perhaps this is because you have to have a certain level of ineptness to not just be a bad team but be a REALLY bad team.

This leaves two options for the Cardinals and their regime’s future, and it’s pretty simple to see the directions:

A. Win enough games the rest of the season to not be picking top five.

This is pretty simple. Winning gets you off of the hot seat. And keep winning next year and you should be fine. But there’s a lot less questions if you go on a late game stretch to wonder about jobs until next year comes along. If Wilks can rattle off 3 more wins, there will be much less pressure.

And despite what fans will want as far as draft picks, repeated winning isn’t “luck” in the NFL and it would go a long way toward keeping Wilks & Keim. Especially if in 2019 they can improve from a 5-11 or a 6-10 to 8-8.

Winning out=the easiest way to get off the hot seat, as should be completely obvious.

However, if that DOESN’T happen...

B. More often than not, if the Cardinals earn a top 5 pick and keep both HC and GM, statistically both are most likely be gone by the end of next year.

The reasoning behind this can be solid as well. If you’re bad enough to earn a top 5 pick, you’re probably not good enough to turn it around into a playoff team as a coach or GM with the same staff & same leadership.

There’s definitely cases where both head coach and GM stick around and win games over the long haul, but they’re more of the rarity.

That’s the best case scenario, and one fans should be hoping and rooting for. But in reality it just doesn’t happen that often.

And often owners still want to move on from one or the other given the struggles the previous year can still weigh on them. Just look at Ken Whisenhunt and Ruston Weber in 2014 earning the #1 overall 2015 pick, and despite record improvement, both were gone at the end of the following year.

And it leaves Steve Keim with a dilemma as to his own job security.

That part about how 11 of the 13 GM’s still have their jobs in the NFL or kept their job?

Majority of them fired or let go of the previous head coach who had a losing record and hired a different coach.

So in that regard, it becomes a big question for Keim as to if Arizona earns a top 5 pick but keeps his job and chooses to keep Steve Wilks...because on average that gets BOTH of them let go the following year.

If Wilks only manages to rattle off one more win this year and the Cards are picking in the top 5....well.

Steve Keim might not have a choice in his own self-interest but to copy the model that previous General Managers who still have their jobs chose to do:

C. Keim chooses to fire the head coach that earned them a top 5 pick and hire a new one.

This method was used by current GM’s in Ryan Pace, Les Snead, Dave Caldwell (though his job will be questioned now) and Jason Licht. It bought them more time and they were able to show improvement the following year.

Remember 11/13 of those who kept their jobs WERE general managers and the majority of them basically saved their spots and turned the team around through improved coaching.

Does that mean that Wilks should be gone?

Maybe, maybe not. I wouldn’t think it’d reflect well to fire him and not give him a 2nd season to turn it around.

But statistically speaking, it’s been the most proven method of survival in the NFL for general managers the last 7 years.

And it’s the question Keim will have to face even as his own hold on the job isn’t 100% secure for next year. There’s still 4 games left. Wilks wins a few of those games like the Green Bay game, then you’ve got something to build around and those “hot seat” questions will be squelched for him and for his GM.

But if that Option A doesn’t happen, he’s got a dilemma to face...with his own job on the line.

Until then, fans can be expecting that most likely, there will be many changes ahead from 2019-2020 unless the Arizona Cardinals can turn this ship around.

And fast.

You can follow @blakemurphy7 on Twitter and listen to him on the Revenge of the Birds podcast.