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Kliff and Kyler: 21st C Great Gatsbys

NFL: NFL Draft Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s fascinating that Kyler Murray wore a pink suit on draft day in honor of The Great Gatsby.

The narrator of the novel, Nick Carraway, tells us, like a Greek chorus at the beginning of a play, a portent of the ending when he said, “No—-Gatsby turned out all right in the end, it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams...”

What Nick also tells us right from the beginning is that Gatsby possessed ”an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.”

In a figurative way of thinking, there are striking characteristics of Gatsby in both Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray—-for both are self-made members of the nouveau riche who many claim are undeserving (the head coach for his college record, the QB for his lack of height)—-whose ever waking thought is winning the ultimate prize.

For Gatsby, that was winning Daisy Buchanan’s hand in marriage—-

For Kingsbury and Murray, that is winning a Lombardi.

And as they prepare for their first regular season game, Kingsbury and Murray know that there are numerous prominent NFL players, coaches and GMs would would love to see these “pretty boys” fall flat on their faces.

Alas, could it be—-ironically—-that one of the people who could most thwart Kingsbury and Murray’s plight is the Cardinals’ own GM, Steve Keim?

Steve Keim wanted everyone to believe that the union of Kingsbury and Murray was all of his own creation. If you believe that, then you probably still believe that Bruce Arians’ decision to retire from the Cardinals was of his own volition.

Keim tried telling everyone that he woke up one day last March and finally, against his better wishes and judgement, he turned on Kyler Murray’s game tapes.

Keim then said that, like the portrait of Leonardo DiCaprio (Gatsby) raising his martini glass to Tobey Maguire (Nick), all he could see was an array of brilliant fireworks.

Now—-one would think that with his job totally on the line—-Steve Keim would want to do everything in his power to help Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray succeed.

But the most imminent question is—-is Steve Keim too old-school in his thinking to ever be philosophically in unison with Kingsbury and Murray?

You see, old sport, Kingsbury and Murray’s addition to the Cardinals was the creation of Michael Bidwill and Ernie Accorsi, with an assist from Adrian Wilson.

Michael Bidwill decided to stick by Steve Keim, despite Keim’s undying loyalty to Bruce Arians and Arians’ hand-picked successor, James Bettcher, despite Keim’s urging to hire Mike McCoy as Steve Wilks’ offensive coordinator and despite the now infamous falling of his own draft picks like a tumbling row of dominos.

It appeared that one of Michael Bidwill’s motivations to keep Keim as GM was his own admission of guilt in the hiring and one-and-done firing of Steve Wilks.

It’s hard to believe for one second that Steve Keim would have ever pushed for Kliff Kingsbury as head coach.

But, once Kingsbury was Bidwill’s guy, with the plan to pair him with Kyler Murray, Keim had no other choice but to try to adapt and be thankful of Bidwill’s loyalty.

That is why Keim let the cat out of the bag back in February at the Combine when he blurted, “Yes, Josh (Rosen) is the starting QB, right now.”

Then came the whole shroud of secrecy—-the whole talking up of Josh Rosen—-the false admission that they never ever put Josh on the trading block—-but they didn’t have to when there was so much speculation that the Cardinals were going to unite Kingsbury with Murray. Interested teams were bound to call—-and Keim knew that.

Thus came the understandable question as to whether Keim could have gotten more value in a trade for Josh Rosen had he put Rosen up for auction before the draft the way the Steelers did with WR Antonio Brown. If weeks before the draft, Keim gave teams a time deadline to make their bids, who knows? Before the draft is better timing because teams aren’t wrapped up in the draft excitement and wanting to hold on to their precious picks.

Then, with Keim now serving as the GM advisor to Kliff Kingsbury, Keim strongly urged Kingsbury to hire a veteran NFL coaching staff on offense so that Kingsbury could adopt and incorporate NFL offensive standards to his Air Raid offense. At first there were reports that Kingsbury was interested in hiring an Air Raid guru like Jake Spavital , currently the head coach of Texas St. But, that prospect was quickly dashed.

In essence, the spirit of Keim’s advice was to tone down the Air Raid, rather than to make a full commitment to it. Sure, no one knows yet whether Kingsbury’s Air Raid (as he ran to as Texas Tech) will be successful in the NFL. But, why not go full-bore after it?

Compounding the toning down approach were some of Keim’s key coaching and free agent choices. The most crucial of which could be the hiring of Sean Kugler as offensive line coach and piecing together of a starting offensive line that did not in all cases place pass protection as the top priority. Kugler, like Keim, appears to be more old school than new school. He likes maulers and road graders up front.

When one studies the Air Raid what becomes crystal clear is how the personnel is predicated on athleticism, foot quickness and speed.

In looking at Keim’s and Kugler’s choices as starters, this current offensive line does not have the look of an Air Raid offensive line. The irony is that one of the returning offensive linemen who best fit the system athletically was Korey Cunningham. The other irony is that the most athletic interior lineman, Mason Cole, has been tagged the utility man and is not in the starting lineup.

Why were the Patriots so interested in Cunningham? The Patriots covet athleticism on the offensive line because they employ Air Raid aspects in their offense.

So Keim trades away Cunningham to the Patriots for a 6th round pick—-and then watches on as other teams make a number of OL trades, those teams knowing fully well that the Cardinals are OL desperate and have the 1st waiver claim.

In essence, Keim got leapfrogged the way he did in the 2017 NFL Draft waiting for the draft to come to him because other teams wanted to beat the Cardinals to the punch.

As of today, the Cardinals have 5 offensive tackles on their roster and of the 3 behind the starters all of them were undrafted free agents and none of them has any real NFL experience.

Korey Cunningham started 6 games last year and played reasonably well, earning one of the higher PFF grades (60.4) on the much maligned offensive line, only giving up 2 sacks while the Cardinals were getting blitzed like crazy with a rookie QB at the helm.

It feels incredibly foolish to know that other offensive line needy teams went out and traded for the linemen they wanted, while Keim gave up one of the more promising young talents on his line with as desperate as the Cardinals are for OL talent, and then waited for the waiver options to come to him.

Hopefully one or both of the tackle claims, Brett Toth or Justin Murray will be a pleasant surprise. But, they are now going to have to learn the Air Raid, which is going to take time and numerous reps, which is hard to do as 2nd stringers when much of the time they will be helping to play on the scout team. At least Cunningham was five months into learning the offense and already had NFL game experience.

While we are on the subject of what now looks foolish—-is the other trade Keim made sending S Rudy Ford to the Eagles for DE Bruce Hector. From day one the Eagles have been raving about the STs play they are getting from Ford as a gunner. Meanwhile the Cardinals cut Hector (who flashed and even helped block a FG) and now Hector is back on the Eagles’ practice squad. Furthermore, now lacking a gunner, Keim had to go and claim Charles Washington from the Lions to fill the role. At least that’s a role that Washington can immediately fill. But why give up so quickly on another draft pick?

Over the past 5 months Keim has traded QB Josh Rosen (Rd. 1 2018), S Rudy Ford (Rd. 6 2017), T Korey Cunningham (Rd. 7 2018) and cut DT Robert Nkemdiche (Rd. 1 2016), CB Brandon Williams (Rd. 3 2016), WR Chad Williams (Rd. 3 2017), RB T.J. Logan (Rd. 5 2017) and T Will Holden (Rd. 5 2017). And you already know the numbers of previously cut or traded draft picks.

This begs the question—-how can any young player on the Cardinals trust Keim? He’s about as fickle as—-well, Daisy Buchanan.

Two weeks ago after the embarrassing home loss to the Raiders, Keim went on the media, in BA-type fashion, to issue a scathing admonition to players he felt were “getting too comfortable.”

Yet, who does Keim go and cut? Three lunch pail guys who played their hearts out: OLB Pete Robertson, LB Tanner Vallejo and RB T.J. Logan. These are players that most likely Kliff Kingsbury would have not cut. In particular, Robertson who starred for Kingsbury at Texas Tech and balled big-time for him this pre-season. And perhaps even more so for Logan, who is the one fast 0-60 home run threat option in his backfield. Last night, If you watched Houston vs. Oklahoma and their Air Raids —-you saw that their backfields are predicated on speed, speed, speed—-and hitting the hole NOW.

Logan’s pre-season grades improved each week, from 56.5 to 63.1 to 64.1 to 64.8 for an overall grade of 64.2 with grades of 84.4 in pass protection and 69.2 in rushing.

The Cardinals ‘ Air Raid now has one of the slowest RB groups in the NFL to go with one of the slowest offensive lines.

D.J. Foster is solid on STs, has a great attitude and is well liked. But, can anyone make the argument that he is a better option at RB than Logan (Foster graded 50.7 in the pre-season) and a better STs option than Tanner Vallejo? Vallejo is known around the league for his stellar play on STs. When we last saw him he was returning a punt block for chunk yards.

On the positive side, Keim deserves praise for a draft class where 10 of the 12 picks made the team with all 12 still in the fold (WR Hakeem Butler on the IR and TE Caleb Wilson on the PS), plus for UCFA DT Miles Brown making the squad.

The auspicious additions of CB Kevin Peterson (Rams—-87.1 PFF grade in 2017), DT/DE Jonathan Bullard (Bears—-64.9 run defense in 2018), Cassius Marsh (Seahawks—-5.5 sacks in 10 games with the 49ers in 2018) and QB Kyle Sloter (Vikings—-74.0, 77.7, 83.7 pre-season grades the past 3 years) to the PS.

Furthermore trade and, UFA additions T Marcus Gilbert, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Tramaine Brock, OLB Terrell Suggs, TE Maxx Williams, WR Damiere Byrd, TE Charles Clay, and WR Michael Crabtree all have a chance to assume prominent roles this season. And hopefully CB Robert Alford later on in the season.

The hope is that Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray can provide the fireworks on offense, despite the current limitations—-that Vance Joseph and Chandler Jones can re-ignite a dormant defense—-and that Jeff Rodgers and Andy Lee continue to build on last year’s improvement on STs.

The sooner that Steve Keim and the coaching staff can embrace and cater the personnel to the Air Raid, the better. Because the extraordinary hope is that these 21st C Great Gatsbys , unlike the ill-fated, preyed upon one in the 1920a, will win the prize in the end.

If the Cardinals do not shun the old school policies of the past in order to embrace the new school policies of the present and future—-then—-as Nick Carraway said at the end of the novel:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”