One way to ensure an NFL team’s year to year mediocrity is for the team’s GM to keep drafting players at the same position over and over and over.
In perusing a number of 2020 mock drafts, one of the most popular predictions for the Cardinals is:
- (#8) CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
- (#40) Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
This dynamic duo of QB Kyler Murray’s teammates at Oklahoma would appear to be a very popular choice for Cardinals’ fans—-and as a long-time Cardinals’ fan, I love both players.
What I worry about is the fact that over Steve Keim’s last 4 drafts, which coincide with his 4 worst seasons as GM, he has drafted 5 WRs (using 2-2nd rounders, a 3rd rounder, a 4th rounder, and a 6th rounder) and 3 centers (using a 3rd rounder, a 4th rounder and a 6th rounder).
That’s a ton of draft capital to use in 4 years for addressing two positions.
The fact is—-only one of those 8 draft picks is currently a starter—-WR Christian Kirk.
The other fact is that Steve Keim doesn’t bet on his own draft picks when he keeps signing free agents who beat his draft picks out for starting job, just as C A.Q. Shipley and WR Damiere Byrd did this past season.
In one of Keim’s more mind-boggling decisions, during the pre-season last year he traded 2018 draft pick T Korey Cunningham who showed promise as a swing tackle while getting valuable starting experience during his rookie season. And when Keim’s RT trade acquisition Marcus Gilbert went down with a knee injury before the start of the season, Keim had to turn to the waiver wire to find Gilbert’s replacement in Justin Murray.
While it was a pleasant surprise to see Justin Murray play well—-it still stings that another Keim draft pick was so carelessly and prematurely tossed aside.
Same thing to a worse degree with 2016 1st round pick, DT Robert Nkemdiche, who had to be replaced by a quartet of free agent signees.
One of the joys of draft days is hearing Steve Keim expound passionately and at length about the qualifications of his draft picks—-
Does anyone remember how effusive Steve Keim was in his praise for 2016 5th round pick, S Marquis Christian? Christian, a small school safety who was one of Adrian Wilson’s favorite players in the draft, was being hailed by Keim as a “storm the alleys” baller and big hit tackler who also possessed “excellent range: in deep coverage.
Christian made the team as a rookie, but was waived during the season so that Keim could keep two punters on the roster. What a classic pissing away of a draft pick—-as the Rams claimed him and he’s been with the Rams ever since.
Had Christian stayed in the mix and had be been properly developed, chances are that Steve Keim wouldn’t have had to draft multiple safeties this past year.
You see—-that’s the point.
When a team keeps tossing draft picks aside like crushed, empty beer cans, it has to double back all over again each draft.
When a team quickly loses faith in its own draft picks and chooses to spend money on free agents to take their place, then that puts a significant drain on the team’s salary cap.
It’s like the kid who gets seven toys from his parents on his birthday and within a few days is bored and frustrated and now wants another new toy.
And if Steve Keim signs a free agent WR this off-season and drafts a WR at #8, then that’s going to keep last year’s three WR draft picks way down on the WR totem pole (to the point where one or two might not even make the 2020 team) and it’s like an immediate admission that the team failed on those picks—-when, in reality, the team really doesn’t know quite yet what they have in Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson, all of whom could develop into very good NFL WRs.
Word is that this year Steve Keim wants to do everything he can to keep the 2019 starting offensive line intact.
OK—-but the price tag for keeping LT D.J. Humphries and C A.Q. Shipley for next season looks to be roughly $20M of the team’s $65M cap space.
Then there is the team’s keen interest in re-signing WR/TE Larry Fitzgerald and RB Kenyan Drake—-and that combo of signing would like be in the price range of $16M.
So now, without having done anything to address the imminent team needs on defense, a defense that was ranked last (32nd) in the NFL this past season, Keim will have spent well over 1⁄2 of the team’s cap space on 4 offensive players.
And it bears mentioning that the team’s interest in re-signing Kenyan Drake to what appears to be somewhere in the vicinity of $5-7M a year is at the expense of Drake leapfrogging two of Keim’s RB draft picks, David Johnson ($16M cap hit in 2020) and Chase Edmonds.
As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “and so it goes.”
Everyone seems to think that Bruce Arians is going to bail the Cardinals out on a portion of David Johnson’s contract—-but—-there is not a strong likelihood that this will happen, especially in light of the perception that the Cardinals are going to handle the Johnson situation the same way they handled the Tyrann Mathieu debacle—-which is to ask the player to take pay cut and, when the player balks at the proposal, the team will eat the money and release the player without getting even a bag of peanuts in return. Ugh.
All right, now that some of the main draft circling and salary cap issues are laid out here—it’s time to try to talk some sense.
Here is, in my opinion, what a Steve Keim should do with these current situations:
- Use the majority of the $65M cap space in adding key free agents on the defense, which right now is well behind the offense in terms of competitive balance.
- If T D.J. Humphries is unwilling to accept a incentives laden contract that compensates him well and protects the team if he gets injured again, then let him go. At #8 one of the two top tackles in this year’s draft will be available, especially now that Tua has declared for the draft. The Cardinals new left tackle would cost them $5M a year for the next 4 years with a 5th year option in hand. Savings on the cap: $10M.
- Look—-A.Q. Shipley deserves a ton of credit for his fantastic comeback season—-but it would be an insult to offer a prideful player like Shipley another lowball contract. The fact is, the Cardinals already have 2 immediate center options (their own draft picks, Mason Cole and Lamont Gaillard) on the roster—-and if Sean Kugler wants added security and depth, re-sign a now healthy Max Garcia to the same $2M deal he got this year.
- This year, Larry Fitzgerald needs to play in the $8M range. Pure and simple. That would put him in the payroll company of the top 10 TEs.
- if Larry demands $11M again, then one has to wonder whether it would be wiser to spend that $11M in signing WR Robby Anderson to a multi-year contract. The Cardinals need at least one veteran in the WR mix and Anderson with his speed and home run ability is made to order for the K-Raid. The Cardinals cannot afford both Anderson and Fitzgerald. Yet, if you take the emotion out of it—-Anderson on a long-term deal at age 26 and heading into his prime would appear to be the wiser choice.
- As for Kenyan Drake—-if he wants anything over $4M a year—-let him go. Two months ago while languishing as the RB2 on the Dolphins, Drake would have been fortunate to get $2.5M a year with any team. $4M a year for 3 years with $6M guaranteed is more than fair. Otherwise, draft a RB from the talented 2020 RB draft pool—-and save the money.
- With RB David Johnson, yes try to trade him, but if you can’t, then keep him and coach him up. The Cardinals might as well try to get some good production from him because, even if they release him, they are going t have to pay him anyway. Put him in the slot—-have him lose some weight and get his feet back to normal. Plus, the Cardinals need to keep developing Chase Edmonds at RB, because he could turn out to be superb.
- The biggest splash signing on the defensive side of the ball needs to be at the DT/34DE position. There are a number of very good options here: Jordan Phillips (BUF, age 27, 31-10 tackles-sacks), Shelby Harris (DEN, 29, 49-6), Vernon Butler (CAR, 26, 33-6), A’Shawn Robinson (DET, 25, 40-2), Jarran Reed (SEA, 27, 27-3 in 10 games), Danny Shelton (NE, 27, 61-3), Maliek Collins (DAL, 25, 20-4), Javon Hargrave (PIT, 27, 60-4), Roy Robertson-Harris (CHI, 27, 30-3), D.J. Reader (HOU, 26, 52-3), Derek Wolfe (DEN, 30, 34-7), Leonard Williams (NYG, 26, 46-1), Erik Armstead (SF, 26, 54-10), Chris Jones (KC, 26, 36-9). The Cardinals need to be willing and eager to spend in excess of $10M a year for one of the top DTs/34DEs.
- At WILB, the Cardinals need a playmaker next to Jordan Hicks. Corey Littleton (LAR, 26, 134 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 ints.) is that player. The 34 defense requires 4 very good linebackers. Give Littleton the same type of deal they gave Hicks: 4/$36M/$20Mg.
- At SOLB, the Cardinals need to put their faith in Haason Reddick, for this is his most natural position and he has the off-season to train specifically for it, getting plenty of help from Chandler Jones. This year, with the need to pay a DT and WILB, the Cardinals cannot afford to go after one of the top OLB UFAs. It would be good to re-sign OLB Cassius Marsh to a $2M deal and this is the year to use one of the day 2 picks (#40 or #72) on an OLB.
- The biggest question in the secondary is whether the Cardinals should trade Patrick Peterson, In my opinion, if the value in return is attractive, a trade would be a win-win for the Cardinals and Peterson. The Cardinals could recover $12M in cap space and add a high draft pick and a player—-and Peterson could go to a team that would be eager to sign him to his 3rd contact. if the Cardinals trade Peterson, a UFA CB who could be a great fit is Mackensie Alexander (MIN, 26, PFF grade 65.7, 86.6 tackling, 64.1 coverage)—-this versatile CB is coming into his own just as he hits his prime. Another attractive option would be Logan Ryan (TEN, 28, 63.8 PFF grade, 87 tackles, 5 sacks and 5 ints.).
- At safety, the Cardinals a young and deep. Count on the draft picks here. Adding a veteran later on at the minimum as the 4th safety would be good.
- The key move on STs is to sign K Zane Gonzalez to a long-term deal.
Thus—with these types decisions in mind (having addressed the immediate defensive needs in FA)—-here is what the draft would look like:
- Andrew Thomas, T, Georgia, Tristan Wirfs, T, Iowa or Jedrick Wills, T, Alabama
- Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson, J.K. Dobbins, Ohio St., D’Andre Smith, RB, Georgia or Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma St.
- Jabari Zuniga, OLB/DE, Florida, Alex Highsmith, OLB/DE, Charlotte, Josh Uche, OLB/DE, Penn St.
It’s time to start developing and counting on the draft picks—-and it’s time to stop drafting over and over at the same positions.
if the Cardinals are going to change the culture—-they have to rely on the team’s youth and stop signing veterans toward the end of their careers to start over the team’s own draft picks.