Back in 2018 when the Cardinals hired defensive minded head coach Steve Wilks, GM Steve Keim proceeded to focus his off-season on giving his choice of OC, Mike McCoy as many of the offensive weapons he needed to succeed—-all the while ignoring the fact that Steve Wilks wanted to make fundamental changes to the Cardinals’ defense, which included shifting away from the 34 and into the 43.
Keim went and spent millions of dollars to bring in the following offensive players: QB Sam Bradford, QB Mike Glennon, WR Brice Butler, FB Derrick Coleman, WR Cobi Hamilton, G Justin Pugh and T Andre Smith.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, Keim had picked up the $7.8M 5th year option on LB Deone Bucannon who had greatly struggled through two subpar injury-riddled seasons—-and from the get-go, it was unclear as to what Bucannon’s natural fit was in Wilks’ 43. Bucannon was never a fit.
Keim’s only other defensive additions prior to the draft were: CB Bene Benwikere, LB Jeremy Cash, DE Benson Mayowa and CB Marcus Williams—-Benwikere wound up being cut about two-thirds of the way into the season, Cash suffered a knee injury in the first pre-season game (after playing very well, alas), Mayowa became a solid rotational DE and Williams was a bust. None of these players were anywhere near anyone’s list of the top 100 free agents.
Then, with a chance to improve the talent on the defense in the 2018 NFL Draft, Keim wound up trading away 3 draft picks to move up 5 spots in the 1st round to select QB Josh Rosen—-and then Keim preceded to take one offensive player after another: WR Christian Kirk, C Mason Cole, RB Chase Edmonds in rounds 2-4.
The only defensive player Keim took in the draft was CB Chris Campbell from Penn St. in the 6th round—-and despite how thin the Cardinals were talent-wise at CB, Campbell didn’t even make the team and wasn’t even signed to the practice squad.
So here we are a couple of years later having suffered through watching the NFL’s worst defense under the leadership of Vance Joseph who repeatedly showed no answers as to how to consistently cover TEs, WRs and RBs. Joseph’s problems were scheme flaws and lackluster effort from overpriced and unmotivated veterans. That combination of problems should have gotten Joseph fired—-but thanks to some signs of late season improvements, which included Patrick Peterson finally deciding to hustle—-and for the sake of the continuity that Budda Baker and others were begging for—-Joseph was retained.
Meanwhile, a Hall of Fame worthy defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, is unemployed.
This marks the second time that Steve Keim has passed on Phillips, the first when BA and he decided 3 year assistant, James Bettcher, was a better candidate, and now after Vance Joseph trotted out the most pitiful, roll over and give you anything you want defense the Cardinals have ever had in Arizona.
Furthermore—-now that free agent negotiations have begun—-here are the investments that Keim has made for the offense (with average annual salary):
TE Maxx Williams—-$3M
WR Larry Fitzgerald—-$11.7M
T D.J. Humphries—-$15M
RB Kenyan Drake—-$8.3M
WR DeAndre Hopkins—-$12.5M (soon to be in the neighborhood of $22M)
T Justin Murray—-$750K
Total: $51.25M (over 1⁄4 of the salary cap)
Note—-these are generous contracts for Humphries, Fitzgerald and Drake (and soon to be Hopkins)—-mixed with two bargain contracts for Williams and Murray.
It all has a chance to be very, very good and perhaps extraordinarily good.
Now—-here is what Keim has thus far invested in the defense:
DT Jordan Phillips—-$10M
Phillips fills a big need and is coming off his best season as a pro. The contract is generous based on Phillips’ subpar production his first 3 1⁄2 seasons in Miami, but per reports the Raiders, Lions and Bills were competing to sign Phillips in this salary range.
While this is a good start—-it is the only free agent signing—-and meanwhile the top talents at ILB have been scooped up.
Not only that—-the Cardinals available cap space, because of the offensive signings, has dwindled.
It is just very difficult to ignore the disparity.
Keim now has to roll up his sleeves and do his best work in order to give Vance Joseph the best chance and reinforcements possible. That starts with giving him a Tom Moore type guru on the defensive side of the ball in Wade Phillips.
I am of the opinion that if Vance Joseph fails again this season that both he and Keim should be let go. Keim’s only DC hire that was any good, Todd Bowles, was made easy because of BA’s connection with Bowles. Since Bowles left town, James Bettcher, Al Holcomb and Vance Joseph (this far) have all looked way over their heads.
When you draft and sign good talent it is imperative to put them in the hands of the most capable, competent coaches. If the GM lacks the ability to hire good coordinators, then the team has no chance to win on a consistent and regular basis.
Let’s remember that we are playing in the NFC West versus Russell Wilson, Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo, coached by three of the best play callers in the NFL in Brian Schottenheimer, Sean McVay and right now perhaps the best of them all, Kyle Shanahan.
We need a highly experienced and competent DC to match wits with the best.
What I would do, asap:
- Hire Wade Phillips as an asst. head coach to oversee the defense.
- Sign LB Kamalei Correa—-he can play 3 of the 4 LB positions. Or—-if Wade Phillips has a say—-add OLB/DE Dante Fowler. What a coup that would be.
- Sign 34DE Rodney Gunter—-his best football is ahead of him and he’s one of our own.
- Do all we can to sign S Malcolm Jenkins—-this guy transforms a defense—-even at 32 years old look at his 2019 PFF grades: Overall: 70.5; vs. run: 71.0; tackling: 72.6; pass rush: 68.5; pass coverage: 70.0. The leadership he would bring to the defense would be magnetic. You win with ballers like Jenkins.
- Draft: Round 1: OLB/DE K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU; Round 3: S Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois; Round 4—-ILB Evan Weaver, California; Round 6: DT Robert Landers, Ohio St.
- Draft: Round 4: RB A.J. Dillon, Boston College; Round 7: G Jon Runyan, Michigan
- If the Cardinals sign OLB/DE Dante Fowler, then they can draft T Jedrick Wills or T Tristan Wirfs in Round 1.
Come on, Steve Keim. Call Wade Phillips and get this defensive transformation started. Taking a Phillip’s head screwdriver to this defense could do wonders.