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Cardinals Practiced in the Art of Deception By Deceiving Themselves

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The Rolling Stones In Concert - Pasadena, CA Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Arizona Cardinals’ owner and team president Michael Bidwill is in many ways a very likable man—-he’s generous and entrepreneurial—-he loves his Cardinals—-and he relishes his role as an ambassador to the NFL.

Make no mistake about it—-Michael Bidwill is a man of good intentions.

Yet, when it comes to running his football team, Bidwill in recent years has fashioned himself as a first-rate Sherlock Holmes, with GM Steve Keim, as his hand picked foil playing the part of the dutiful, obsequious Dr. Watson.

Just like Sherlock Holmes, Michael Bidwill manifests cunning plans, and in order to execute his plans, he has become:

“practiced in the art of deception—-a glass of wine in his hand—-and in his glass was a bleeding man.”

First that bleeding man was former head coach Bruce Arians—-whose abrupt retirement from the Cardinals smelled distinctly fishy from the get-go. Yes, Arians was suffering through alarming health issues in addition to his outward contempt toward his underachieving players, all the while singing his and his “brilliant” coaches’ praises.

The fact that as Arians was already campaigning for a new head coaching gig mere months into his role as a TV color analyst, cogently suggests that Arians purported decision to retire as coach of the Arizona Cardinals was coaxed and staged to give the appearance that hanging up the whistle was of his own volition.

The second bleeding man under Bidwill’s watch was one year head coach Steve Wilks who was doomed from the get-go by what could be described as the “Arians hangover” and by being paired with a largely vanilla and anachronistic offensive coordinator in Mike McCoy.

In the press conference where Bidwill announced the swift one-and-done firing of Steve Wilks, Bidwill came clean with a complete “mea culpa,” but also took parting swipes at Wilks—-saying basically that while Wilks was a good man, Bidwill had recently listened to Wilks’ year 2 plan and scoffed at it—-but at the same time saying that as early as Week 1 then Wilks’ Cardinals were getting booed at half-time by the State Farm Stadium crowd, Bidwill felt alarms going off in his head.

Meanwhile, at that very same press conference, Bidwill sang the praises of Steve Keim, lauding Keim for the franchise record success during Arians’ first three years.

It was very important for Bidwill to let Cardinals’ fans know that Steve Keim should be absolved of any culpability for the Cardinals three year decline, despite Keim’s personal and legal troubles and his decision to put the offense in the hands of McCoy and Sam Bradford, while signing RB David Johnson to the 2nd highest RB contract in the NFL a year ahead of Johnson’s contract year and a few months removed from his season-long stay on the injured reserve.

But at that time—-for Bidwill—-having one bleeding man in his glass in Steve Wilks was tough enough to bear, let alone a second—-and let alone his own Dr. Watson. After all, it was a customary practice of Sherlock Holmes’ to practice the art of deception until he brilliantly pieced the clues together to solve his case—-and then in the “aha” moment of Holmes’ unveiling of the culprit—-Holmes was always very quick to credit Dr. Watson for the case-closing discoveries.

Curiously, when Michael Bidwill announced the surprising and in many ways unprecedented appointment of Kliff Kingsbury as the Cardinals’ new head coach, Bidwill did not go out of his way to credit Steve Keim. He elected instead to thank former Giants’ GM Ernie Accorsi and the Cardinals own “Director of Stuff” (per BA) Adrian Wilson for their efforts in bringing Kingsbury to Arizona.

By the time the Cardinals’ management team landed in Indianapolis for the 2019 NFL Combine, Bidwill and Keim had managed to engage the new head coach into his new role of supporting actor as the Cardinals spun their web of deception from the hash marks on the field up to interview suites over to the Jumbotron and further up to the rafters of Lucas Oil Stadium.

As a result, the third bleeding man who got stuck like liquid cement to the center of that web became the Cardinals 2018 1st Round pick QB Josh Rosen—-who was strung along by a series of utter lies, misdirections, cryptic innuendos and head fakes—-even getting praise from Kingsbury for the couple of weeks in early April where Rosen ran Kingsbury’s newly installed offense—-while Bidwill and Keim relished keeping Rosen and the entire NFL world in complete suspense right up to the very mili-second that Kyler Murray’s name was sent to podium as the #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft—-for what was intended to be the ultimate “aha” draft moment.

Josh Rosen was never on the trade market—-until he was.

Until, one could argue, it was too late—-that is, to get the top value in return.

After being traded to the Dolphins on Day 2 of the draft, Rosen issued a passionate, classy thank you video to the Cardinals’ organization, his teammates and the fans. Then, he received great applause and a standing ovation at Larry Fitzgerald’s charity softball event—-before flying off to South Beach.

After all of the deception, humiliation and angst that Josh Rosen had to endure, it was left to Kliff Kingsbury, his coach of three months, to thank Josh and wish him well. And yet, not a single word to Josh was uttered by Steve Keim, the very GM who tantalized the NFL media back at the Combine when he first said, “Sure, Josh is our staring QB—-right now” and then later in interviews walked the comment back and tried to make it crystal clear that Josh was indeed the franchise QB.

After Kyler Murray was drafted, Steve Keim wanted to make it clear that Kliff Kingsbury never pounded on the table for Murray and that it wasn’t until a series of March film sessions that Keim started to envision “fireworks” when thinking of how Kyler would fit in Kingsbury’s offense. What Steve Keim wanted everyone to know is that drafting Kyler Murray was ultimately his decision.

Curiously, it wasn’t until Kingsbury and Murray demonstrated their success as a rookie head coach and QB tandem, that Michael Bidwill then gave distinct praise and credit to Steve Keim. The timing of Bidwill’s remarks was purposeful because Cardinals’ fans, having suffered through the worst offense in the NFL in 2018 under Mike McCoy were now suffering through watching the worst defense in the NFL in 2019 under Vance Joseph.

Fans were also getting fed up with Keim’s kow-towing to diva CB Patrick Peterson—-whose return after his no-shows at OTAs and a 6 week suspension for PED and coverup violations was nothing short of embarrassing. Keim kept assuring the fans that he still considers Peterson one of the elite CBs in the NFL and then made excuses for him saying that it’s hard for any player to get back into football shape after a 6 week hiatus.

Thus far this off-season Keim has signed two of the Cardinals’ own free agents in WR Larry Fitzgerald ($11.7M for 1 year, $11.7m guaranteed) and T D.J. Humphries ($45M for 3 years, $29M guaranteed).

Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim have made it clear that they want to see “Patrick Peterson retire as a Cardinal.” Thus they are engaging in discussions about a new contract—-which is quite a statement to make to the football team—-that a player who has asked for a trade, who got busted for a PED violation/coverup, who publicly called the Cardinals’ organization “snakes in the grass” when they refused to pay him during his suspension, who held out of OTAs out of spite (despite a new coaching staff and then having the audacity to say after his return from suspension that he was still having to learn the defense), who played embarrassing football at half speed for 5 weeks, who then bounced back for the last three weeks—-enough to warrant a new contract?

On the flip side, imagine, if you will, what to must be like for Kyler Murray, who genuinely wants to win—-for the team—-not just for himself—-to see the kind of dysfunction that goes on in the Cardinals’ organization—-to see a potential Hall of Fame caliber CB self-destruct—-to see a veteran player get injured in training camp, go on the season-ending IR and then bet against the Cardinals in Las Vegas—-to see a couple of new teammates get accused of assault and quickly get removed from the team—-to see veteran players take a number of practices off and then play at half speed during the games—-to see his own stadium get taken over by Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans—-to see the 2nd highest paid RB in the NFL run many of his plays at half speed and subsequently get benched—-to see that one veteran Hall of Fame caliber player told a former teammate that he came to Arizona because he didn't want to steal from the Ravens, so he chose to steal from the Cardinals instead.

These are a myriad of bad examples that one will find in professional sports—-but—-for Kyler he saw his fair share of the good examples too—-like for instance, playing with an NFL legend in Larry Fitzgerald and developing a close friendship with All Pro OLB Chandler Jones. You know, other guys who have a burning desire to win and the work ethic to make it happen.

Thus—-you know what?—-Murray’s honest, diligent, no-nonsense approach to the game not only was a game changer for the Cardinals on offense his rookie year—-look at how hard Murray’s offense competed—-to the point where Murray’s approach may be seeping into the approach of the Cardinals’ brass.

This week at the 2020 Combine, Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury have been very open and refreshingly direct about their plans for the off-season. Cases in point:

  1. They are happy to have LT D.J. Humphries re-signed and they liked what they saw in RT Justin Murray and that it has “taken the pressure off to some degree” (per Kingsbury) of having to draft a tackle at #8.
  2. They think RB Kenyan Drake is a “perfect fit” at RB, so they want to re-sign him and “we’ll see where it goes”(K2). Even if David Johnson isn’t the 2020 starter, he is still a significant asset in the running and passing games, where he “creates difficult mismatches for the defense”(SK).
  3. They would like to acquire a WR1 who can “take the top off the defense or be physical” (SK). They have already met with Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs and like what all three bring to the table. Jeudy (“Gumby-like bend”), Lamb (“physical playmaking”), Ruggs (‘pure speed”). If they don’t draft a WR in the 1st round, Kingsbury thinks the WR class is “4 rounds deep” for top WR talents.
  4. They like LB Isaiah Simmons and DT Derrick Brown a ton, as both are in the discussion at #8 should one or both of them be there.
  5. They have been forthright in saying that Kyler Murray has made it clear that he is hoping the Cardinals will draft CeeDee Lamb at #8. Lamb said it would be an honor to play with Kyler again and called Kyler “my boy.”

This is unusual transparency from the Cardinals. Could it be—-this It all seems honest and genuine? I believe it is!

If you haven’t seen this tweet—-it appears that Kliff Kingsbury has come to the conclusion that the element of surprise for his offense did not work in his favor as a first year head coach:

This is exactly what I and a few others kept arguing before and during the pre-season, particularly having a rookie as the starting QB, trying to sync the offense, test it and help the players grow confident in it.

Could it be that the Cardinals’ web of deception of 2019 is getting blown apart by 2020 wind within the organization?

If it is, our Cardinals might be headed toward pure, honest greatness faster than we think.

Like Sir Walter Scott wrote so aptly: “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!”

Scott concluded: “Whenever we deceive others, in order to make things better for ourselves in the moment, we deceive ourselves most of all.”

So, as another famous Brit, Mick Jagger is apt to sing: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you just might find, you get what you need.”

Yes, as in an “honest” try.