In 2017, despite persistent health scares, Bruce Arians was given one last “All or Nothing” chance. His QB room was exactly what he wanted it to be: QB1—-Carson Palmer and QB2—-Drew Stanton.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, there was speculation that the Cardinals were going to draft their QBOF.
However, GM Steve Keim was caught between the Scylla and Charybdis. One the one hand, he wanted to draft the Cardinals QBOF, but, on the other hand, he wanted to do all he could to help Arians reclaim the “All or Nothing” buzz—-and with it, the opportunity to stay on as head coach.
The QB prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft were one of the most heavily scrutinized groups of this decade. North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky was a one year starter at North Carolina. Texas Tech’s gunslinger Patrick Mahomes, mired in the stigma of being a “college system QB” was seen as a razzle dazzle type who needed significant taming to be a legitimate NFL QB. And scouts questioned whether Clemson’s Deshaun Watson could beat NFL defenses from the pocket.
Three major things worked against Steve Keim taking one of these three QB with the Cardinals’ #13 pick:
(1) Arians’ QB1 was signed through the 2018 season, and as long as BA was in Arizona, Drew Stanton would be option number two—-hence, from the head coach’s perspective, even though it would be nice to have a youngster learn from Palmer and Stanton, the need was not felt as imminent. (Stanton’s 5 years as QB2 was a major deterrent for drafting a QB and Stanton said on a couple of occasions that he thought he would be the heir to Palmer after Palmer retired.)
(2) None of the 3 top QB prospects appeared to be a slam-dunk fit for Arians’ style of offense. At the time, Arians was expressing his disdain for how college football was ill-preparing QBs for the NFL. The QB the Cardinals appeared to be leaning toward was Watson, largely because the Cardinals had been developing a relationship with Dabo Swinney and Swinney was telling them that “passing on Watson would be like passing on Michael Jordan.”
(3) While NFL Dratniks were projecting the top 3 QBs as late 1st, early 2nd round prospects, the Bears, Chiefs and Texans were all willing to give up valuable draft capital to trade up to spots #2, #11 and #12 to draft Trubisky, Mahomes and Watson respectively.
In essence, Steve Keim seemed to trust in the Draftniks that the QBs would fall to #13 and thus never made a move to trade up.
Part of the problem was—-Keim desperately wanted to protect his draft capital because, again, he wanted to add some key pieces to help Bruce Arians turn the sinking ship around.
While it was somewhat of a feel-good story for the Cardinals to draft Temple’s LB Haason Reddick from BA’s alma mater and at Reddick’s home turf of Philadelphia, the problem there was what had now become a common practice BA and the GM employed for many of Keim’s high draft picks—-switching them to positions they did not play in college.
Reddick put up Von Miller type measurements and times at the NFL Combine and was coming off his best season at Temple as a quick, athletic edge dynamo.
Suddenly, come training camp in 2017, the Cardinals were looking very thin at ILB—-having let former 2nd round pick ILB Kevin Minter hit free agency and signing the then 35 year old Karlos Dansby to take his place—-and having to fill the void at $LB because Deone Buccannon was nursing a foot injury. Thus, Reddick was moved into the ILB spot the way Bucannon was after the Cardinals drafted the safety from Washington State in the 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft and asked him to fill the void left by suspended LB Daryl Washington.
In the end, Bruce Arians was done in (in part) by his own hubris in thinking that he could vie for NFL championships with inexperienced and/or underperforming coordinators whom he continued to laud publicly. Arians placed the blame for the team’s demise squarely on the players’ individual and collective failures.
In 2018, the Cardinals hit rock bottom because of a series of ill-advised “on the rebound’ decisions—-pretty much all of which have been quickly and systematically reversed by an owner who was willing to offer a public mea culpa for the franchises mistakes and by a GM who suddenly has untethered himself from the outdated philosophies of the “All or Nothing” staff.
When one looks very closely at what the Cardinals have done over the past year—-they have pivoted and made a complete 180 degree turn from Bruce Arians’ style of football operations.
Arians was very open about his disdain for wide open shotgun heavy college offenses; he was loath to play rookies and was therefore heavily reliant on aged veterans; he and his staff espoused a very “old school’ style of cuss ‘em out now and hug ‘em later;” he hung certain players out to dry in the media thinking this kind of public humiliation might motivate them, etc.
Kliff Kingsbury brings a completely different philosophical approach as to how to handle and develop players. The K-Raid is a college style of offense that BA holds in disdain. Kingsbury is excited about playing and get good production out of his rookies. Cardinals’ fans won’t see him cuss out his players or denigrate them in front of the media.
Equally evident, are the changes that GM Steve Keim has made to his modus operandi. Keim is now locked in on finding players who are natural system fits—-in physical, mental and leadership capacities. There is no intention of asking the most recent high draft picks to make position switches. And there is a far greater sense of excitement for putting the rookies right to work with the hope of playing them as quickly as possible.
Yes, the Cardinals are moving forward.
In a matter of 22 months, they have transitioned from old school to new age—-with the same kind of speed they are now employing for the first time in play calling and at the QB position.
As with treating a brand new NFL football—-it will take a little time, numerous daily snaps and careful rubbing in order to break it in just right.
For the 2019 Arizona Cardinals it is (literally and figuratively) out with old and in with the new.
“Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac and a little voice inside my head said ‘you can’t look back, you can never look back.’ ” (Don Henley—-”The Boys of Summer”)
Welcome Cardinals’ fans to “21st Century FOX.”