As if Cardinal brass needed more of a reminder that the NFC West truly never sleeps, the LA Rams just acquired a big upgrade a quarterback.
They did this before the official end of the 2020-21 season.
Before the end of January, even.
By now you’ve likely read all about Les Snead and company’s continued aggressive approach to player acquisition that often includes parting with premium draft capital.
Yet with head coach Sean McVay in the fold, the Rams are afforded a luxury very few teams have in this league. That being they are able to completely front load the top of their roster with proven star players while McVay and company continue the process of elevating lesser tier talent (mid to late round picks, undrafted players, cheap free agents) into key contributors.
That’s all coaching. That’s all McVay.
Division rival Seattle, like LA, has also been aggressive in star player acquisitions. During the Schenider/Carroll era, the Seahawks have parted ways with prime draft picks to secure the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin, Jimmy Graham, Duane Brown and most recently Jamal Adams and Carlos Dunlap.
While not all of those player acquisitions were hits, like LA, Seattle has a roster stabilizer and it’s not head coach Pete Carroll.
Rather it’s their quarterback, Russell Wilson, who has never finished worse than 9-7 (same with McVay).
Then there’s the San Francisco 49ers, who have taken more of a conservative approach to roster building as opposed to their NFC West counterparts. Except you could argue that recently, GM John Lynch has acquired more top end talent (both in the draft and free agency) compared to Seattle, LA and Arizona.
Recent draft selections such as Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Fred Warner give the Niners a core group of high end talent to build around for the foreseeable future.
Mix in some savy acquisitions such as the one that netted Lynch standout OT Trent Williams (for a mere third round pick) and you’re in business.
Yes, say what you want about the slight overpays for players like Jimmy Garoppolo and Dee Ford but both players were key contributors in San Francisco’s 2019-20 Super Bowl run.
The Niners could also very well be, depending on what you believe, a dark-horse in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes.
Then there’s the Arizona Cardinals who currently sport the longest post season drought of any NFC West participant...by a large margin. In fact, the Niners, Seahawks and Rams have all secured at least one post season victory in the past 13 months.
Cardinal GM Steve Keim is mere weeks away from what will mark his third offseason of rebuilding what was once one of the top rosters in all of pro football (2014-2016). Yet a slew of poor drafting combined with some disastrous free agent signings have doomed the former x2 Pro Football Talk Executive of the Year.
Yet, Keim has recently done an admirable job in attempting to revitalize Arizona’s opportunities to once again reach the postseason. Hitting on player acquisitions like Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins will do that for you.
However, the now infamous Cardinal GM knows that time may be running out on punching his team’s ticket to January football. If the Arizona Cardinals were to once again fail to make the postseason in 2021, it would mark a six year drought all of which were overseen by Keim.
Barring something unforeseen, this result would likely lead to Steve Keim’s eventual dismissal as the team’s general manager. The same could likely also be said for third year head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who has yet to secure a winning record in the desert.
Combine all that with the fact that the NFC West has never been more aggressive and rich with talent (both players and coaches), and Steve Keim knows this off season needs to be a transcendent one for the Redbirds.
Expect Keim to go for broke with his job on the line.
If you’re a fan of our weekly podcast here at Revenge of the Birds, you may have noticed that I’ve recently dubbed this offseason period for Keim as the #EmptyCalorieOffseason.
By definition, empty calories are “calories derived from food containing no nutrients”.
How can that be translated to a single NFL offseason? I’m glad you asked!
I expect Keim to make a flurry of signings, trades and draft selections that support boosting this roster in the short term in assurance of securing his precious post season birth. Those acquisitions could very well be at the detriment of the team’s long term outlook of consistently being competitive, however.
Translation: it’s time to splurge now for the sake of being full while ignoring the scale until a later date...
With Kyler Murray set to enter year three of his modest rookie contract, even with pandemic restrictions set to plague the league’s salary cap, I fully expect Keim to go big game hunting in the free agent market.
Perhaps a premium number two wide receiver could be in route? With marquee names like Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Will Fueller, Curtis Samuel, Sammy Watkins, Chris Godwin, and Marvin Jones all currently set to hit the market, how could Keim not splurge on at least one of them?
Given the current state at the position for Arizona, one could argue this is the team’s single biggest need entering 2021. Each of those players mentioned will come at a high price tag and none are perfect but all represent a significant upgrade over what the Cardinals currently have in house.
From Chad Williams, to Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella and Hakeen Butler, Keim’s track record shows that drafting the receiver position is not his strong suit. Only former Cardinal, now Buffalo Bill pass catcher John Brown has eclipsed one thousand yards receiving (2015) and he was subsequently allowed to hit the market by Keim.
As for the trade market, you could argue this is where Keim is at his best as a general manager. Tremendous, franchise changing acquisitions like that of Carson Palmer, Chandler Jones, and most recently DeAndre Hopkins all came with Keim at the helm.
I’d argue, if you’re gonna deal picks for proven players, this is the year to do it...— Johnny Venerable (@JohnnyVenerable) February 1, 2021
-Reduced tape for players
-Limited access for scouts
Rams and Seahawks have already shown you what they think of this draft by dealing away premium draft capital. Cards up next?
With the Cardinals desperately seeking help at the cornerback position , and the free agent market leaving much to be desired, this is where Keim can target a long term fix in exchange for 2021 draft capital.
Rumor has it he’s going to be available and Keim would be best served to closely monitor the former Buckeye’s market.
Then there’s the 2021 NFL Draft, which could be the greatest crapshoot in league history when it comes to selecting players. Outside of a couple elite names, the first round could be a hodgepodge of players who peaked 12-18 months ago in combination with one year wonders from a reduced, pandemic season.
Given Keim’s mediocre draft history, I don’t feel comfortable working with this scenario. Outside of Kyler Murray, Keim has failed to land a first round impact rookie that was an immediate contributor. In a make or break season, expect Keim to potentially trade down for more capital to use on positions that historically have an easier transition from college to the pro game.
(cough) (cough) running back (cough) (cough).
While I don’t love the idea, expect Arizona to be in the mix for one of the draft’s premier runners of the football to immediately help on Sundays. Again, I don’t expect the team to select a runningback at pick 16, but I would not rule it out for a potential trade down into the 20’s.
It may sound cliche, but 23 year old Najee Harris is a name that would make a lot of sense for a team that was absolutely putrid in short yardage last year...
Saquon Barkey and AJ Dillon have a new challenger in the quad game.— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) January 26, 2021
Alabama RB Najee Harris pic.twitter.com/XWcTqjzJGZ
Free agency doesn’t kick off until mid-March but we’ve already seen the trickle effects of teams attempting to get a head start on the new league year. In fact, it was last February at the NFL Combine in which Keim and former Texan’s GM/HC Bill O’Brien ironed out the details that would eventually send DeAndre Hopkins to the desert.
Say what you want about Steve, but like his NFC West counterparts, the man’s a deal maker and a gambler. He dealt away Josh Rosen while gambling on the pairing of Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury. He’s not afraid of potential blow back and in today’s NFL landscape, that’s something that should be commended.
If the rest of the NFC West hasn’t made it clear, it’s time to go all-in.