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Steve Keim’s Road Map to the Future

What are the key decisions that the Arizona GM will need to make with the current roster and in future drafts to set Kyler Murray up for success?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Training Camp Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NFL Season is almost here, and with it comes the promise of hope, anticipation of celebration and welcoming of new faces and old.

As it stands, the Arizona Cardinals are entering in as one of the most hyped teams of the year (perhaps second to only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady) after making the 2nd biggest acquisition of the offseason with the trade for Deandre Hopkins and the drafting of players such as Isaiah Simmons.

What’s needed for the Cardinals to progress and turn their team from a team with ‘buzz’ to a team that actually is competitive on the field for the longhaul in the NFC West?

Honestly, most of that has to do with the idea of talent & talent acquisition...and boy oh boy has that seen a rise and a fall from the past decade of 2010 to 2020.

So what does Keim need to do to set up this next decade? Here’s some of the upcoming decisions to be made and my recommendation as to which move Keim should look to make.

Honorable Mention: Paying Budda Baker & Deandre Hopkins

This decision was already made—and it wasn’t an easy one. Baker is undoubtedly a great safety, but the questions about his coverage and lack of interceptions (and on the positional value of a safety) had many wondering if he was worth paying or not.

For what it’s worth, seeing the value of Budda in re-watching the season and recognizing that it’s probably that with the cap rising (if Covid is still a major issue near the end of Budda’s contract and affecting the cap, well, all bets are off I guess) it’s best to pay a proven talent like him who’s still getting better NOW rather than wait for the likes of a Jamal Adams.

Keep your core players, especially with a rookie QB contract in place like there is currently...and I think Budda can still get better at make his contract look like a bargain.

I was never as concerned about Hopkins getting paid as others were. He’s a bonafide top 3 receiver in the game. AZ had a MUCH tougher deal to figure out with him than with Budda Baker given that he had 3 years left on his current contract and while it came a little to the wire, he got locked up in AZ.

And boy...after watching the Texans offense outside of a resurgent David Johnson that passing game looked BAD minus Hopkins.

MOVE: ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED

#1. Ensure that Kyler Murray’s in the right situation to succeed

Looking at you, Kliff & Vance.

Unfortunately for one Kyler Murray, if he had gone to pretty much any other NFL coach, he would have been getting a looot more credit than he has. Sadly, not so with the Arizona Cardinals.

Kliff Kingsbury’s still not won over a lot of people in the league who are holdovers from a different time and place—when Chip Kelly was added from the collegiate ranks to the Philadelphia Eagles because he was a winner at the college level (don’t get me started on Saban’s time in Miami, lol) then HOW could Kingsbury win in the pros?

Until he does....that’s the question that will be asked. He’s already show-cased a flexible scheme and fast growth, but will he be able to have the experience to blossom and get the Cardinals to double-digit wins and a shot at the playoffs within two years? If not, then the Cards will have to figure out why and if there’s issues in terms of scheme, play-calling or development it’ll fall on Kliff.

The other aspect is Vance Joseph. It’s been talked about enough but if Joseph doesn’t turn the Cardinals defense around this season, he’ll be out of a job and Arizona will need to find someone FAST who can whip up their defense into one that can support a contender and buy Murray some ability to not have to carry the entire team on his shoulders w/ a defense that gave up drives like the 2019 Cards.

I think this is pretty obvious, to almost everyone, at least. Special teams might earn a mention but since that can be talent related, I’m not as concerned unless we see the production fall off a cliff there.

MOVE: Keep Kliff & other coaches minus disaster, wait & see with Vance

#2. Pass Rush Has a Price & Needs A Partner

Pass rush? Of course I’m talking about the one and only Chandler Jones.

Duh.

It’s very possible that if he was playing in the right position last year Chandler Jones might have set the NFL Single Season Sack record.

He might as well possibly hit or set it while going into the last year of his contract, as well. What’s interesting is that since he arrived in Arizona, Chandler’s only had 1 solid year with a true “partner in crime” across from him in (then a healthy) Markus Golden. The team led the league in sacks in 2016 with him, Markus and Calais.

Since, he hasn’t had a partner, and the Terrell Suggs experiment there failed miserably, and the team (wisely) took Kyler Murray over Nick Bosa when they had the chance back in 2019.

So?

It means you’re going to need to pay Chandler...but also find him the Robin to his Batman. Speaking of the Robin to his Batman...more on that in #5. But the question becomes—do you trade for a pass rusher or draft one?

Personally....I would look at this approach:

MOVE: PAY CHANDLER AND TRADE A 2021 2ND FOR A VETERAN EDGE RUSHER

#3. Corner Choice

The number of starting corners under contract for the Arizona Cardinals entering 2021 right now:

  1. Byron Murphy
  2. ...

Yup.

The Cardinals have their two outside corners currently under contract for only 1 year...and that means a choice. Either having to pay Patrick Peterson, or let him walk and pay another corner top dollar.

There’s also a 3rd option—you can go cheap at one CB spot but there’s no replacing a guy who can go up against the #1 options each week.

What’s the plan? I think there’s a 3rd option. At some point, Arizona has to accept that 2021 might be a year to go “all in” and if so, you’ll want Pat P on your side. Whether he will accept that or not is another thing to figure out but I’d imagine a solid season gets him paid nonetheless or dealt for maybe a 2nd rounder...hitting on the next corner or seeing Byron develop will then be huge.

So as to what I’d recommend what Steve Keim should do? Take advantage of the rookie deal Murphy has (assuming he hits) and pay a veteran CB the year after Peterson walks, and bring along another top corner slowly knowing you might have to back the Brinks truck up for your QB.

MOVE: FRANCHISE PETERSON FOR 2021, EITHER LET WALK OR TRADE A LA FRANCHISE TAG, DRAFT CB IN THE FIRST IN 2022

#4. Wise to target a Wide Receiver?

Arizona’s got talent in Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson and maybe even some solid tight ends.

But like we have seen at times, while a true alpha #1 wide receiver can take over a game, there’s something else to be said about a reliable Robin to a Batman. It doesn’t need to be 2008 Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, mind you. However, there’s no denying that when you have a weapon, teams will look to take it away.

Too many weapons and there’s no way they can cover all of them. Currently the Cardinals have Hopkins as the A, but who’s the B if Larry Fitzgerald retires after this season?

Christian Kirk would need to EXPLODE considering he’s not a 4.3 deep threat, Isabella’s a slot guy and KeeSean Johnson has shown flashes but nothing to indicate he could take on that sort of role.

I think that the Cardinals should look at the 2021 NFL Draft, see the opportunity to add weapons and go out and get a 2nd alpha wide receiver either with size or speed that can pair with Hopkins on a cheap deal for the next 4 years. Then if they hit?

You can pay them just as Hop’s contract is coming up. To me, this might help mirror some of what Murray had at Oklahoma—a big target in CeeDee Lamb who could win against 1-on-1 matchups and break tackles, along with a speedy deep threat who could run all over the field and hit homeruns. That guy might not HAVE to be a 4.3 speedster but if they can be a deep threat, Murray can hit them and the Arizona offense will have its Fitz/Boldin 2.0 with contractual flexibility to boot.

Is it a bit much to draft a wide receiver in the 1st after trading a 2nd rounder for one? Maybe. But unless Kirk/Isabella or Johnson can explode in a way similar to how the Chiefs offense has Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins and more...I would think you can’t have too many weapons. (Alternately, if the Cardinals wanted to add a pass-rusher in the 1st and solidify with a running back in the 2nd round, I wouldn’t be opposed to the team taking a flier on a deep threat and hope for another John Brown sort of hit).

MOVE: DRAFT A 2021 WIDE RECEIVER IN THE FIRST ROUND

What are your thoughts about what Keim’s approach needs to be?

Sound off in the comments below!