Kind of a weird title for a commentary on football, but hopefully I can tie it all together.
If you have been in Arizona for awhile and followed any of the other professional sport teams then you know how this current Cardinal's debacle is going to play out. We've seen it before.
Why Were the Cardinal's Historically Bad Last Season? (And maybe this season)
I believe much of the blame can be placed on Bruce Arians and by association Steve Keim and Michael Bidwill. As fans we enjoyed the early Bruce Arian's years. It was a ton of fun. We won a lot of games. We were really good there for a bit, but let's be honest with ourselves. We accumulated a lot of "debt". Only sort of in the sense of the salary cap, but what I mean is that the Cardinal's pushed all their chips in. It was the "All or Nothing" season(s).
- Bruce Arian's was presumably at his last coaching stop
- Carson Palmer was near retirement age
- You never know when Larry Fitz is going to hang things up.
By extension Bruce Arians was not interested in developing young players. Rookies didn't play. Bruce had his loyalties to "his" players and coaches which seemed admirable at first, but extremely detrimental later (Amos Jones).
There was zero interest in planning for the future. I believe Keim was drafting players that Bruce wanted so that he could try and win now. We weren't wasting a draft pick on a QBOF because that meant we couldn't pick up an impact player in an early round to win now (even if that didn't shake out very well either). We didn't have big money to be able to pay a lot of big free agents in those years. Take 2015 as an example:
- Patrick Peterson - 14 mil 10% of the cap
- Calais Campbell - nearly 15 mil 10% of the cap
- Larry Fitzgerald - 11 mil - 7.5% of the cap
- Jared Veldheer - 8.5 mil - nearly 6% of the cap
- Carson Palmer - 7.4 mil - 5% of the cap
- Mike Iupati - 6.7 mil - 4.5% of the cap
- We had players like Jonathon Cooper in the top 10 highest paid on the team (that never played) and even still had Daryl Washington dead money on the cap.
3 of our highest paid players were on the OL (so there's that), but there wasn't massive amounts of money to throw at more free agents. We didn't have 12 million more dollars to sign an impact offensive lineman. Steve Keim was looking for lightning in a bottle. That meant free agents that could contribute right now, but usually had an injury history or issue which is how we could afford them.
These players were never about building for the future. It was spending all your capital right now. No risk it no biscuit. We sure as hell risked it.
We have seen this before (Diamondbacks version)
Remember when the Diamondbacks won the World Series? Hey it worked, right? They did the same thing the Cardinals tried to do, but it worked. Colangelo mortgaged the future and paid out tons of deferred contracts to get guys to Arizona to win the World Series. Remember what happened after the 2001 magical season?
- 2003 the DBacks were in 3rd place in the division with an 84-78 record. Johnson and Schilling both were injured that year. Schilling (even though still a very capable pitcher) was traded to the Red Sox (where he went on to win another World Series with his bloody sock). Arizona couldn't afford him any longer (Calais?) (Sounds like the 2016-2017 Cardinals)
- 2004 the team was in dead last at 51-111. A historically bad team. In fact one of the 10 worst records in the modern era (sound familiar?) Jerry Colangelo gets pushed out by the rest of the founding investors that had bank rolled the world series debt. (Sounds like the 2018 Cardinals except Keim didn't get fired)
- It was 2007 before the Diamondbacks made it back to the playoffs behind a young group that included Brandon Webb, Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, Chad Tracy, Mark Reynolds, and Justin Upton. (Maybe the 2020 Cardinals?)
- Unfortunately the 2007 success wasn't sustainable... (Uh oh).
3 point guards signed (or 3 rookie wide receivers drafted?)
- Eric Bledsoe wanted a max deal after being injured quite a bit and the Suns never really knew what they had. In 2014 the Suns ended up paying Bledsoe (David Johnson anyone?) and it's not that he played terrible, but the team was not good.
- Goran Dragic (spelling?) and Isaiah Thomas were all on the team and... well... it just didn't work out. Too many players at one position that wanted playing time and the culture of the team wasn't good and only got worse from there. Way worse. The point guards all wanted to be traded. Literally all of them (Patrick Peterson, Honey Badger, Tony Jefferson?)
We have seen this before (Coyotes version)
Back to the Cardinals
Here we are in 2019 with the Cardinals that have not developed any young players for the past how many years? 5? Most of their free agent signings have been injured veterans to try and plug a hole because they didn't want to admit that their window had closed. 2018 was NOT a retool, yet that's what management was calling it.
Steve Keim seems like a bad fantasy football player that sees a name falling down the draft board and when it gets to his pick he feels obligated to grab the player (Nkemdiche - maybe Rosen?) even though the rest of the GMs wanted no part of them. I did the same thing with my fantasy team in the year Le'Veon Bell held out. I couldn't help myself. I also got last place in my league that year.
Do I blame Steve Keim for this? Yes... mostly... sort of.. I'm not sure. We won't ever see behind the curtain, but I could see a scenario where Steve Keim didn't want to build the team this way. Maybe Keim wanted to build the team in a different way. Maybe Keim has been arguing all these years about how he didn't want to mortgage the long term future of the team at all costs. Maybe Michael Bidwill made him pick players Arians wanted and sign the lightning in a bottle veterans. Is it a stretch to think that Bidwill wanted to win a Super Bowl so badly that he forced Keim to draft and build the team as Bruce Arians wanted it? It sort of makes sense if that was the case, because Keim still has a job. It seems inconceivable that Keim would have been retained with this disaster of a roster if it was built how he wanted. The logical part of my brain wants to think that Bidwill feels that this roster is his responsibility and that it would be unethical to fire Steve Keim for decisions that Michael made.
Years ago we were 1 reception away from a Super Bowl win. If we had won the Super Bowl and could look back and say that the pain we are feeling now is because of the what they did to win the Super Bowl then maybe Keim gets more slack from the fan base. But that was a long time ago and we didn't win. Fast forward to the end of the Palmer era and it feels like we have been floundering for the past couple years with an identity crisis not knowing if it's time to blow the team up or time to keep pushing for relevancy.
20/20 hindsight it seems pretty clear that we should have transitioned to a new mindset of investing in the future of the team 2 years ago, but we didn't. We should have started investing in young players, but we didn't. We should have begun building out our offensive and defensive lines, but we went for it one more time in 2017. Then 2018 happened. The debt collectors came calling. It was time to pay up.
It's highly likely this is going to be another painful year while we start the rebuild. Will 2019 show signs of improvement? Maybe. Maybe not. Will 2020 be better? Probably. But realistically we shouldn't expect too much until 2021 when the team has developed some young talent. Yes, sometimes the NFL is a worst to first league, but not when you have this much "debt" you have to pay.