Should Steve Keim still be employed as the Arizona Cardinal’s General Manager?
That’s a discussion for a different day.
There is a growing sense, if it wasn’t already confirmed, that Michael Bidwill will retain Keim for the 2020 season.
Whether or not you feel like that’s the right move, we’re currently trending toward Keim making personnel decisions for another calendar year.
With that being said, as the year winds down, lets look back at the previous 12 months for the infamous GM.
Perhaps a closer look at some of his recent wins (and losses), may help provide some insight as to why Michael Bidwill will inevitably retain Keim.
December 25, 2018: Keim claims safety D.J. Swearinger
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing.
It can also be crippling for a franchise that is routinely short-sided in it’s rebuilding efforts.
Keim’s acquisition of safety D.J. Swearinger toward the end of the 2018 campaign was applauded by the majority of Arizona’s media and fanbase. Swearinger was a key cog in Arizona’s top 10 defenses back in 2015/2016, so it made (some) sense to try and reclaim some of that swagger that was all but lost in the Steve Wilks’ era.
The problem was, however, that Swearinger was released by the dumpster fire that was (is) the Washington Redskins. Yes, the team wanted to avoid paying the remainder of his $13.5 million dollar deal but it his lack of production in Washington should have been a red flag for Keim.
The Cardinals, who then owned the top waiver priority, jumped on the chance to reunite with the hard hitting Swearinger.
Fast forward eight months later, and the team couldn’t part with him fast enough.
Swearinger, who is only 28 years old, looked completely out of sync and disengaged with Arizona. The veteran safety routinely missed open field tackles and was left in the dust all too often by opposing tight ends (a trend that would unfortunately continue for Arizona).
He played in only four games before the Cardinals inevitably released him in favor of their two young fifth round safeties (Jalen Thompson, Deionte Thompson).
Swearinger now resides in Oakland with the surging Raiders with Arizona currently picking up the tab for his 2019 salary ($4,312,500 in dead money).
January 8, 2019: Keim hires Kliff Kingsbury as Arizona’s next head coach
Following the dismissal of head coach Steve Wilks, it made all the sense in the world for the Cardinals to go for the extreme opposite in their next hire.
Wilks was an old school, no nonsense defensive specialist with minimal (lets call is ZERO) offensive prowess.
So what did Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim target? A slew of offensive minded head coaches who, outside of Adam Gase (and Man Dan Campbell), had a subtle demeanor about them.
From Jim Caldwell, to Zac Taylor, Keim and company knew the kind of qualities they wanted in their next leader of men.
Fast forward to the second week of January, and Keim was holding court at the introductory press conference for his new head coach: Kliff Kingsbury.
In what would end of being the most criticized coaching hire of the off season (decade?), Keim went with his gut in targeting a former college head coach with zero NFL experience. But to his credit, Steve Keim saw what has been on display for the better part of 11 games thus far in 2019.
Kliff Kingsbury is a brilliant offensive mind.
This isn’t breaking news but it bears repeating that the 2018 Arizona Cardinals were one of the worst offenses of the past 20 years. They finished last in nearly every statical offensive category and were virtually unwatchable for the majority of the season.
Kingsbury arrives and with the acquisition of rookie phenom Kyler Murray, uses primarily the same cast of characters to catapult the unit into the NFL’s top 10 (advanced metrics).
That is simply incredible.
There is still work to be done and Kingsbury remains a work in progress with his in game coaching/clock management. However, what cannot be disputed is that the former Texas Tech head coach has brought an innovative offensive ideology to the Cardinal franchise that has not been seen since Don Coryell.
March 11, 2019: Keim signs FA OLB Terrell Suggs
The opening day of free agency can often lead to fools gold acquisitions, with many inept franchises tossing around silly money at players that were allowed to walk by their previous team’s.
General Manager Steve Keim has done historically well on the initial kickoff period of free agency, hauling in solid additions in the former of Mike Iupati (he did make a Pro Bowl), Jared Veldheer and the trade for future Ring of Honor representative Chandler Jones.
This year with the Cardinals clearly in a rebuild (combined with limited cap space), one would assume Keim would lay low similar to his approach in 2013. That of course was the former scout’s first off season as the team’s GM and he managed to corral a slew of quality free agents including Jonathon Abraham, Frostee Rucker, Karlos Dansby and Eric Winston.
All of those contributors (two of which played at a Pro Bowl level), were signed during the third and fourth waves of free agency.
While Steve did make some solid additions (we’ll get to those), the day one signing of veteran OLB Terrell Suggs was not one of them. Suggs, who had spent his entire career as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, left the team in search of bigger dollars.
The Cardinals, in an attempt to garner some solid press amidst the Murray/Rosen fiasco, inked the then 36 year old edge rusher to two year, $10 million dollar deal.
While the overall contract is manageable at only $7 million guaranteed, Suggs’ play has not matched even that number. The aging veteran has seen his contributions plummet following a solid start to the season. In recent contests against San Francisco and Tampa Bay, Suggs has been seen jogging at the point of attack while compiling very little on the stat sheet.
To make matters worse, Suggs’ former teammate Bart Scott told reporters that Suggs went to Arizona to “steal money”.
I think it’s safe to say the Cardinals will be in the market, come this off season, for a replacement pass rusher opposite Chandler Jones.
Perhaps the Cardinals could lure a young, productive pass rusher (with high character) BACK to the desert?
March 12, 2019: Keim signs FA ILB Jordan Hicks
After the blunder that was the Terrell Suggs signing, Keim responded in a big way with the addition of 26 year old ILB Jordan Hicks for four years, $36 million.
Hicks had been a quality player for the Philadelphia Eagles, but had too many seasons derailed by injury. To Keim’s credit, he vetted the linebacker’s medical history prior to signing him to a multi year deal that currently looks like one of the better bargains on the roster.
Through 11 games, Hicks leads the NFL in tackles with 110 while also contributing 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions. All of those numbers lead a Cardinal defense that could use more players like Hicks.
If you recall, the Cardinals were also in heavy negotiations with standout free agent LB C.J. Mosley, who managed to swindle the New York Jets for a five year, $85 million dollar deal. Mosley has been hampered by injury which has resulted in the veteran playing in a mere two games for Gang Green this season.
Division rival San Francisco also went big in the free agent linebacker market, signing former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Kwon Alexander to a four-year, $54 million contract, with $27 million in guarantees. Alexander was coming off a torn ACL and is already on IR for 2019 with a torn pectoral.
As for Hicks, unfortunately the Cardinal’s historic defensive struggles will likely overshadow a potential Pro Bowl level season for the former Texas Longhorn. The good news for Arizona (and Keim) is, as of now, the Redbirds appear to have made out with the best of the free agent linebackers.
March 21, 2019: Keim signs FA DT Darius Philon
Arizona has long mismanaged their defensive line, dating back to allowing free agent DE Calais Campbell to jet-set down to Jacksonville. This move has long haunted the Cardinal franchise, specifically Keim, who undervalued the now borderline Hall of Famer’s contributions to the team.
Campbell was not only a standout on the field, but a tremendous leader in the locker room as well as in the community. The former Miami Hurricane should have never been allowed to see free agency and the Cardinals now that know.
Which brings us to this past off season, where Keim and company frantically tried to piece together a quality defensive line for newly hired DC Vance Joseph. Corey Peters was the lone stall-worth, with former first round pick (and bust) Robert Nkemdiche slowly isolating himself further from the franchise.
Arizona was cap-strapped in free agency and needed to bargain hunt for some young, cheap talent. Keim’s answer during the second week of free agency was to take a chance on former Charger DT Darius Philon.
Philon had been a solid contributor for the LA, but was largely seen as a rotational piece. Arizona dished out $4 million to the former Razorback with the hope that, at only 25 years old, he could take the next step in his development.
Unfortunately for Keim, Philon never saw the field for Arizona. The free agent signing was arrested during the summer following an incident at a strip club involving a gun.
Before waiting for the league to take action, the Cardinals released Philon on August 12.
While this instance may not have been within Steve Keim’s direct control, his prior mistakes have erased the benefit of the doubt given to him early in his career.
April 25, 2019: Keim selects QB Kyler Murray first overall in 2019 NFL Draft
While the addition of head coach Kliff Kingsbury may have been a quality get by Keim, the drafting of QB Kyler Murray first overall could very well be a career defining (saving?) move.
A year after trading a third and a fifth round selection to the Oakland Raiders to move up for quarterback Josh Rosen (10th overall), Keim had yet another decision to make at quarterback.
Rosen underperformed as a rookie, much of that due to his horrendous supporting cast and historically poor coaching. The former UCLA Bruin was given very little chance to succeed and Keim understood that.
But when the current GM met with his soon to be coach in Kliff Kingsbury, it was obvious that other options would at least be explored.
Kingsbury had long been a supporter of Kyler Murray. This much is clear.
So, with the jury still out on Rosen, Keim reluctantly began reviewing tape of the eventual first overall selection.
To his credit, he saw what we are all now witnessing each and every Sunday. Rosen may have worked long term with the right combination of coaching and personnel.
Kyle Murray just works. Period.
At the writing of this article, the former Oklahoma Sooner is on pace for roughly 25 total touchdowns as a rookie (I’ll take the over). He should reach 4,000 yards passing and 500 yards rushing. He leads all quarterbacks, AS A ROOKIE, in the least amount of turnovers given.
He has been everything and more Steve Keim could have hoped for at pick number one. Should Keim eventually be relieved of his position of General Manger, Cardinal fans should be appreciative of his efforts in this instance. Keim remedied his past mistakes (2017 QB class, Rosen trade) and gifted the with desert perhaps their most gifted playmaker in franchise history.
April 25/26, 2019: Keim blunders the Josh Rosen trade
You cannot tell the story of Kyler Murray to the Arizona Cardinals without also discussing the downfall of Josh Rosen.
Not so much the player, but the image and compensation.
Steve Keim and the Arizona Cardinals were, presumably, in the driver’s seat for a legitimate draft day haul. Whether the team opted to part ways with Rosen or not, QB needy teams had begun to inquire of Rosen’s availability early in free agency.
Hadn’t not made up his mind on whom to take first overall, Keim reportedly rejected those inquires of Rosen. With a slew of NFL teams needing a potential answer at quarterback, Steve Keim refused to open up trade discussions on Josh Rosen until Day 1 of the NFL Draft.
By that point, only a small number of team’s left were in the market for a QB, and Rosen was no longer viewed as the shiny new toy. Not only was his predraft evaluation hampered by the debacle that was the 2018 season, but the Cardinals had also burned one of Rosen’s rookie years on his deal. The same could not be said for Murray, Daniel Jones or Dwayne Haskins.
The night of the draft, according to multiple reports, Keim was on the lookout for at least a first round selection for Josh Rosen.
It never came.
Entering Day 2, with Murray now in the fold, Keim publicly stated that the team would be comfortable bringing both quarterbacks to camp.
In an effort to call his bluff, 27 selections were made before the Miami Dolphins threw Keim a life raft and traded for the once herald quarterback.
Keim and the rest of the Cardinal fanbase can only look back at the month of March as a gigantic missed opportunity to engage a multitude of NFL teams in a potential bidding war for Rosen.
Or perhaps not, considering that 10 teams passed on him just a year prior.
Honorable Mention (Win)
May 3, 2019: Keim signs FA TE Maxx Williams
Keim managed to secure a top 5 tight end (via Pro Football Focus), for a one year contract that was less than one million dollars.
Williams has brought a physical presence upfront that was sorely lacking for Arizona. While he remains solid as a pass catcher, he is arguably Arizona’s best pure blocker regardless of position.
Keim wisely rewarded Williams, who doesn’t turn 26 until April, with a a contract extension that will run through 2021.
Honorable Mention (Loss)
April 26, 2019: Keim selects WR Andy Isabella (62) over WR DK Metcalf (64)
While Steve Keim has one of the worst track records when it comes to first round selections made by a GM, he’s made the most of his Day 2 picks. From Markus Golden to Budda Baker, David Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu, Keim sports a solid track record on second and third round selections.
And while it may be incredibly early to judge 2019 draft results, it appears as if Keim may have gifted a playmaking receiver to a division rival.
Keim and Kingsbury alike had long been intrigued with UMASS receiver Andy Isabella. While ultra productive at a lower level of college football, Isabella had the advanced metrics via PFF to support a Day 2 selection. Unfortunately for Arizona, when they opted to select the undersized receiver over the freakishly gifted DK Metcalf, it came with significant consequences.
There’s not denying that Metcalf, who grossly underperformed at Ole Miss, benefits from having Russell Wilson as his signal caller. However, you can’t deny his ability to separate and often times man handle opposing defensive backs.
Meanwhile, it took until October 31st against the 49ers for Isabella to make any kind of an impact for Arizona.
Let’s hope we are able to look back at this scenario a year from now with renewed optimism on Isabella’s development.
Honorable Mention (Win)
April 26, 2019: Keim selects CB Byron Murphy 33 overall
I can be 100% objective in saying that I hated this selection when it took place.
Not the player, the selection.
At the time, Arizona had Patrick Peterson (pre suspension announcement) and newly signed Robert Alford manning the corner positions.
What they didn’t have was a stud offensive tackle like Cody Ford protecting the blind side of first overall pick Kyler Murray. Keep in mind that the 2018 Cardinal offensive line and their “performance” was still very much fresh in my mind.
D.J. Humphries still couldn’t stay healthy and Marcus Gilbert came with his own set of issues. The Cardinals needed to address their offensive line early and often.
But hours leading up to round two, it became increasingly clear that Arizona lusted after Murphy (who they deemed as a top 10 talent). Other teams reportedly called with trade offers in hopes of selecting Murphy but Keim passed.
With the power of hindsight, Byron Murphy has a chance to be one of the better draft picks of the Steve Keim era. His physical style of play has been evident since day one, and his ball skills are improving by the week.
Thanks to the Peterson suspension, the former Washington Husky has played nearly every snap since week one. His development is much further along than many thought was possible at this point of the season as Murphy should be inline for a massive jump in play come 2020.
Murphy has a chance to achieve Pro Bowl accolades in the coming years.
Honorable Mention (Loss)
September 23, 2019: Keim signs FA WR Michael Crabtree
As we begin to scrape the bottom of the barrel, these next several critiques (in my opinion), remain minor.
The Cardinals knew, once they inched closer to the regular season, that they needed an addition at receiver. Michael Crabtree was surprisingly still available and was slightly underutilized during his time in Baltimore
What Arizona didn’t know when they signed him was the negative impact he supposedly made in the receivers room.
After only three games, the Cardinals parted ways with the 11-year veteran receiver, opting to go young at the position with the likes of KeeSean Johnson and Trent Sherfield.
Unfortunately for Keim, the team is still on the hook for Crabtree’s $2.3 million dollar salary in 2019.
Honorable Mention (Win)
March 15, 2019: Keim signs FA guard J.R. Sweezy
In what was perhaps Keim’s shrewdest offseason addition, the team locked up former Seattle Seahawk guard J.R. Sweezy to a modest two-year deal.
Met with much skepticism at the time of the signing, you could make an argument that Sweezy has been Arizona’s best offensive linemen through 11 games.
Not only does he have a quality pass blocking grade of 72.2 via PFF, but he’s also been incredibly valuable as an aid to the slew of right tackles the team has trotted out. Sweezy has served as a symbol of consistency and quality for an offensive line unit that historically is anything but.
2020 may be his last year with the team, should they search for an upgrade via the draft, but I am already comfortable including Sweezy on a list of Keim’s best bargain free agent signings.
Honorable Mention (Loss)
January 11, 2019: Keim secures Vance Joseph as the team’s Defensive Coordinator
This one is tough but necessary.
When Kliff Kingsbury was hired by the team, it was well known that he would struggle to field a NFL caliber defensive coaching staff. This was due mostly to the lack of quality NFL defensive contacts the young college coach had accumulated.
Enter Steve Keim.
Keim, along with Kingsbury, pieced together the Cardinal’s defensive staff beginning with former Bronco’s head coach Vance Joseph.
Joseph was brought in to restore the once great 3-4 defense that had been temporarily stymied by former head coach Steve Wilks.
While the personnel remains below average on multiple levels, no one who has watched the product this season can say that Joseph has done a quality job. He often leaves his best players out of position (Baker, Jones) and most Sunday’s the defense looks lost in coverage against opposing tight ends.
There have also been many instances in which the unit looks unprepared for all four quarters.
For what it’s worth, I don’t expect Joseph to be fired mainly due to Keim’s involvement in the selection process. But even with the inevitable waive of free agents and draft picks that will be imported within this unit, Joseph himself has to improve significantly for Arizona to take that next step in 2020.
Honorable Mention (Win)
October 28, 2019: Keim trades a conditional 6th rounder for to Miami for RB Kenyan Drake
Kliff Kingsbury, if anything, has shown that he’s an adaptable coach. As the league’s trading deadline closed, Kingsbury had already produced quality rushing performances out of both David Johnson and Chase Edmonds.
The problem was, however, as the October 31st Thursday night contest against the unbeaten Niners approached, the selection of quality running backs available was sparse
Enter Steve Keim, who swindled a deal for Dolphin’s running back Kenyan Drake.
Drake, who is beloved by his Alabama coach Nick Saban, was grossly underutilized during his time with the Miami Dolphins. Those same Dolphins, entering 2019, began to purge their entire roster with the hopes of a complete rebuild come 2020.
Fortunately for Kenyan Drake, he was dealt out of Miami to the desert and has now become the featured back for the Arizona Cardinals.
Drake, after only two practices with the team, torched San Francisco on national television for 160 total yards and a touchdown. According to Steve Keim, the free agent to be is reportedly in the team’s plans past 2019.
This move may end up costing Arizona a fifth round selection but the addition of Drake has allowed the continued growth of Kyler Murray. Keim, knowing full well the team wasn’t going to sniff the post season this year, didn’t punt on Murray’s development. The addition of Drake is a reinforcement of encouragement to both Kingsbury and Murray that their efforts are not unnoticed, rather rewarded.