Today, I am going to focus on the Cardinals’ pattern under GM Steve Keim to compound failed draft picks by signing veterans whom Michael Bidwill and Keim believe will excite the fan base and give the impression that the Cardinals FO are doing everything they can to please the fans.
Cases in point:
- Trading G Jonathan Cooper (Keim’s 1st draft pick as GM in 2013) and replacing him with UFA G Evan Mathis coming off a back injury.
- Poorly developing ILB Kevin Minter (2nd Round 2013) and replacing him with Karlos Dansby (2017), who was a shell of his former self.
- Poorly positioning Deone Bucannon (1st Round 2014) and replacing him with poorly positioned Hasson Reddick (1st Round 2017).
- Finding a stronger option in 2018 at WILB in Josh Bynes —-PFF grades with AZ in 2018—-Bynes (75.3 overall, 80.2 vs. run, 63.9 in coverage)—-Reddick (61.2 overall, 58.9 vs. run, 57.5 in coverage)—-then cutting Bynes this season—-but look—-2019 grades—-Bynes (BAL—-76.0 overall, 75.7 vs. run, 73.3 in coverage)—-Reddick (40.0 overall,, 57.1 vs. run, 29.2 in coverage). Why argue with success?
- Poorly developing TE Troy Niklaus (2nd Round 2014) and replacing him with TE Jermaine Gresham at an absurd multi-year contract of over $7M a year.
- Poorly treating WR John Brown (3rd Round 2014) and replacing him with WR Chad Williams (3rd Round pick 2017) then cutting Williams after two seasons and replacing him with WR Michael Crabtree (UFA 2019).
- Poorly treating T D.J. Humphries (1st Round 2015) whom they drafted to eventually replace RT Bobbie Massie (4th Round 2012) and after sitting Humphries for his entire rookie year, then making a last ditch effort to try to re-sign Massie, while the team was invested in Jared Veldheer at LT, which would have relegated Humphries to the bench in year 2.
- Low-balling UCFA S Tony Jefferson, letting him walk in free agency and signing 33 year old S Antoine Bethea to replace him (some PR fallout with this move, but Bethea did give the team his all for two seasons before getting cut and replaced by 2018 UFA Tre Boston).
- Making the decision to move on from OLB/DE Markus Golden (2nd Round 2015) and replacing him with OLB/DE Terrell Suggs (at $7M—- and then learning that Suggs told a Ravens’ teammate that he didn’t want to steal money from the Ravens so he decided to steal the Cardinals’ money instead).
- Poorly developing CB Brandon Williams (3rd Round 2016) and having to make trades for Marcus Cooper and Jamar Taylor and having to sign Tramon Williams, Marcus Williams, Bene Benwikere and Robert Alford as replacements.
- Making the decision this past season to replace $13M a year RB David Johnson (3rd Round 2015) with trade acquisition Kenyan Drake to the extent of benching him and Chase Edmonds (4th Round 2018).
- Poorly developing DT Robert Nkemdiche (1st Round 2016) who was drafted to replace Pro Bowl DT Calais Campbell (2nd Round 2008), then having to cut Nkemdiche in year 4 for coming to camp grossly out of shape and then replacing him with 33 year old UFA DT Clinton McDonald (after UFA signee Darius Philon was cut for an assault allegation).
- Drafting centers Evan Boehm (4th Round 2016) , Mason Cole (3rd Round 2018) and Lamont Gaillard and opting to stick with UFA A.Q. Shipley.
- Trading up to draft S Budda Baker (2nd Round 2017) when it appeared that they needed to replace $13M Tyrann Mathieu (3rd Round 2013) because of his decline in effort and production. Good move to snag Baker, but unfortunate outcome with Mathieu.
- Trading up to draft QB Josh Rosen (1st Round 2018) who after one season was traded to the Dolphins for a 2019 2nd Round pick and a 2020 5th Round pick (used to acquire RB Kenyan Drake) after being replaced by QB Kyler Murray (1st Round 2019).
- Cutting RB T.J. Logan (5th Round 2017) in just the beginning of his 3rd season and replacing him with UFA RB D.J. Foster.
- Trading T Korey Cunningham (7th Round 2018) to the Patriots for a 6th round pick in just the beginning of his 2nd year, after he had earned a 60.4 2018 PFF grade in 349 snaps (at LT and RT) in favor of starting trade acquisition Marcus Gilbert and keeping Joshua Miles (7th Round 2019) for depth. Gilbert was lost to the IR a few days later and was replaced during Week 1 by waiver wire claim T Justin Murray.
- Quick Hooks (Keim draft picks who didn’t last more than 1 or 2 years): 2013—WR Ryan Swope, TE D.C. Jefferson; 2014—-QB Logan Thomas, WR Walt Powell; 2015—-LB Shaq Riddick, TE Gerald Christian; 2016—-C Evan Boehm, S Marqui Christian, G Cole Toner, CB Harlan Miller; 2017—-WR Chad Williams, G Dorian Johnson, T Will Holden, RB T.J. Logan, S Rudy Ford; 2018—-QB Josh Rosen, CB Chris Campbell, T Korey Cunningham; 2019—-TE Caleb Wilson.
- Draft Succeses: 2013—-S Tyrann Mathieu; 2014—-WR John Brown; 2015—-DE Markus Golden, RB David Johnson; 2017—-S Budda Baker; 2018—-WR Christian Kirk; 2019—-QB Kyler Murray, S Jalen Thompson (and a host of possible others depending on player development).
- 2nd Contracts (for Keim draft picks): S Tyrann Matthieu (5 years for $62.5M with $40M guaranteed) and RB David Johnson (3 years for $39M with $30m guaranteed)—-Note: both players deals coming after their 3rd seasons coming off season ending injuries.
What patterns do you detect?
Consider these, if you will.
- Poor player development which has led to drafting at some of the same positions over and over.
- When draft picks fail—-in many cases they are replaced by past-their-prime veterans, the vast majority of whom do not work out—-and thus the Cardinals were not only losing out on developing its youth, but also losing ground for kicking the can further down the road at those positions.
- Of Steve Keim’s 7 1st Round picks, most of them were busts (injuries, quirky personalities, scorned by coaches, playing new positions), while with regard to the three remaining,:
- T D.J. Humphries has only started 43 of 82 possible games and despite his injury history and mediocre performance grades, he wants top LT money in free agency.
- LB Haason Reddick has finally been moved after 3 years at ILB to OLB, his most natural position. Because he hasn’t played many snaps there yet for the team to know how effective and productive he will be, it’s most likely the Cardinals will not pick up his 5th year option. But, if Reddick has a big year at OLB, the Cardinals can make a strong pitch to re-sign him.
- QB Kyler Murray, who won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, primarily because he is Kliff Kingsbury’s top choice at QB and a player that the Cardinals were willing and eager to start from day one.
4. How coaches treat their players is a critical factor in player development. The new coaching staff appears to be more patient and better suited to make more tangible improvements in this critical area of roster building.
5. Bidwill and Keim pick out free agents whom they think the fans will be excited about whether because the free agents have local ties to Arizona St. or the University of Arizona or because they have played for the Cardinals before and were well-liked before. But, the majority of those signings have backfired—-none more so than Terrell Suggs who the team had to cut in December for lackluster effort and minimal production. Plus—-these veterans are getting inordinate numbers of days off from practices.
Can Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim make astute adjustments?
- Make your 2020 decisions from a new found position of strength—-Peter Schrager predicts that the Cardinals will be the “hottest free agent destination this off-season.” Take a look at Schrager’s claim again:
- What this means is—-don’t make moves out the kind of desperation you’ve felt in the past. For example, placing the franchise tag on LT D.J. Humphries would be a desperate move, because it is a high-risk maneuver fraught with red flags and it would signal that you are willing to pay players salaries that they haven’t earned yet.
- Trying to negotiate a new contract with CB Patrick Peterson right now is another move made in desperation and it could set the team back in the sense of the message it would send to the other players own the team, that you can cheat, try to cover it up, bash the organization, show up out of shape, play half speed for 5 games and for a couple of good games you can get handsomely rewarded.
- Anyone here think Patrick Peterson will give the Cardinals a hometown discount for what he put them and his teammates through in 2018 and 2019? Rhetorical, right?
- Trust in your coaches—-in the event that D.J. Humphries doesn’t budge from wanting $15M a year or the $16.4M franchise tag (fully guaranteed) have Sean Kugler pick out his free agent preferences and his top 1st and 2nd round draft pick choices. You have the #8 pick in the draft and there are 5 tackle prospects with 1st round grades, and likely all 5 will be available to you at #8. Or—-maybe you like one of the other free agents whom you can sign at a reasonable salary. In other words—-you have a number of intriguing options. And remember this—-look at what Kugler and Brian Natkin did with RT Justin Murray. This can give you every reason to be confident that they can do the same and even more with another young tackle of their choice.
- Take advantage of being popular with this year’s free agents, especially the ones who are willing to meet you some of the way in salary negotiations. When you are building a championship caliber roster, you cannot afford to have a few players dominate the salary cap—-every player in the organization needs to know that to make championship runs everyone needs to make some sacrifices, because if everyone just wants the biggest slice of the pie he can get, then the pie won’t last for 16 weeks and into the playoffs. Players who flock to Arizona are ones who want to be a part of the excitement that Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray are bringing to the organization.
- if you are going to give more that $10M a year to a player, make sure that the vetting process is thorough. You cannot afford any more big salary mistakes.
- Stop doting over players with local ties or past ties to the Cardinals that you think the fans would love to see on the team. With Kingsbury and Murray in the building, your tickets are going to sell—-you don't need a Terrell Suggs to get you the last of your season tickets sold.
- Stop kicking the can down the road with past-their-prime veterans. Yes, back in 2015 when you had a championship caliber roster, it made sense to add a couple key veterans like Dwight Freeney and Red Bryant—-but—-right now—-you can’t afford to let aging veterans like Michael Crabtree (for example) take away the 1st team reps and snaps for the younger players.
- Sign UFA s who are in their mid 20s and heading into their prime and try to sign them to multi-year deals—-only to players who are excellent fits in the coaches’ systems. Your best UFA signing last year was TE Maxx Williams whom you signed for the veteran minimum of $805K and then re-signed for 2 years at $3.5M a year. These are the kinds of free agents you want to sign because they are hungry, tough and heading into their prime. But, try to sign them to 3-4 year deals—-because you don't want a one-and-done season like you now likely just got from Kenyan Drake.
- Lastly, but very importantly, identify the younger players on your roster whom you feel can be starters in 2020 and where you see fit, commit to them. There are a few young players who look like they have what to takes to be effective and productive starters—-like C/G Mason Cole, RT Justin Murray, TE Dan Arnold, RB Chase Edmonds, WR Andy Isabella, WR KeeSean Johnson, DE Zach Allen, OLB Haason Reddick, CB Byron Murphy and S Jalen Thompson.
- Plus there are some potentially dynamic role players on the roster—-WR Hakkeem Butler, WR Trent Sherfield, T Joshua Miles, T Brett Toth, QB/RB Chris Streveler, DE Michael Dogbe, DT Miles Brown [did you know that Zach Allen, Michael Dogbe and Miles Brown made the top 2019 NFL 32 of DIs in tackling efficiency grades? Allen—-73.0 (#4 DI); Dogbe—-71.4 (#25 DI); Brown—-70.5 (#31 DI)], LB Chris Gardeck, LB Tanner Vallejo, CB Chris Jones, CB Kevin Peterson, S Deionte Thompson and S Zeke Turner.
Case in point:
Now that former Cardinals’ SS Tony Jefferson has been released from the Ravens, some fans are clamoring on Twitter for the Cardinals to sign Jefferson.
Look—-as much as we liked Jefferson when he was with the Cardinals—-the Cardinals have an emerging star at SS in Jalen Thompson. You don't sign a veteran safety like Jefferson, if you are not going to start him. And in this case, you don't want to take any reps or snaps away from Jalen Thompson. Plus, the team has Deionte Thompson as a nickel FS and highly capable backup to Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson. The Cardinals have much bigger needs at other positions. So, as nostalgic as it would be to bring Jefferson cack—-it’s not the right move to make at this time.
The Point Is:
Be committed to drafting players who check all of the right boxes—-commit to them—-build up their confidence by playing the ahead of worn down veterans—-because when draft picks are successful, you don’t have to keep circling the wagons over and over at the same positions—-and then you don’t have to resort to signing veteran free agents who are beyond their primes and who have to take off numerous practices during the week.