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New M.O. for Cards’ FO

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe signing Terrell Suggs was a good thing for the Cardinals after all.

There’s a great line in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun when Walter Younger learns that Willie, Walter’s business partner, has left town and absconded with Walter’s money. In delivering Walter the news, his pal Bobo says,

“When a thief done run off with yo’ money, he don’t leave no road maps.”

The moral of the story for Walter Younger, NFL owners and GMs is: you’d better put your trust and money in the right people.

This past season after the Cardinals got off to a hot 2-0 start and then lost to the Lions at home and the Panthers in Carolina, Steve Keim’s message to the team, which he delivered in his weekly Friday morning interview with Doug and Wolf was:

“Our stars have to start playing like stars.”

Well then, let’s see. What stars were Steve Keim alluding to?

On the offensive side of the ball, captains Kyler Murray, D.J. Humphries and Larry Fitzgerald were playing hard and reasonably well. Fitz’s production and number of targets were down, but that was largely because DeAndre Hopkins opened the season on fire. And let’s face it, Fitz has never slacked a day in his football career.

Yet, on the defensive side of the ball Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones and Jordan Hicks were all mired in struggles.

On special teams, captain Dennis Gardeck was crushing it.

Here we are nine months later and it was clear from the start of free agency that the Cardinals were poised and ready to move on from Patrick Peterson, who signed a one year contract worth up to $8M with the Vikings.

Upon leaving town, Peterson issued a statement to the fans that he fully expects to be enshrined in the Cardinals Ring of Honor, but recently has said that he has circled the Week 2 game in Glendale as a game where he is going wreak havoc on the Cardinals and “do what I do.” Peterson went on to say that he is extremely thankful to be with the Vikings where he feels “appreciated and not tolerated.”

Hmmm...tolerated?

This off-season the Cardinals asked Jordan Hicks to take a pay cut, which he agreed to. However, when uber-ball magnet Zaven Collins was on the board at pick #16, they immediately phoned in the pick and tabbed Collins as the starter at MIKE ILB in tandem with Isaiah Simmons who was redshirted for much of the season last year —- and by naming Collins the starter at MIIKE the Cardinals conceded this time around, Kliff Kingsbury said, “there ain’t no redshirts” for Collins and 2nd round pick WR Rondale Moore.

Since the draft Jordan Hicks was given permission to seek a trade. Thus far, a trade has not materialized and thus Hicks is now sitting out of the Cardinals’ mandatory mini-camp. most likely on the verge of being released, if and or when it’s clear there are no takers on a trade.

The most looming current contract that the Cardinals needed to address this off-season from the very start was Chandler Jones’ unguaranteed $15.5M base salary in the final year of his 5 year $82M contract that awarded Jones with $51M in guaranteed money.

Up until last season, Chandler Jones was living up to his contract by maintaining his status as one of the elite sack masters in the NFL.

However, for whatever reasons, Jones did not manifest his typical whirlybird suddenness off the edge in his 5 games before incurring a season-ending biceps injury. In 5 games, Jones recorded 1 sack and 10 QB pressures. 5 tackles, 6 assists with his 1 sack being his only tackle for loss.

What the Cardinals discovered in Jones’ absence was that they could continue to generate impressive pressure on opposing QBs while getting outstanding performances from Haason Reddick (12.5 sacks, 56 pressures), Dennis Gardeck (7 sacks, 18 pressures) and mid-season trade acquisition Markus Golden (4 sacks, 41 pressures).

Reddick signed a one year $6M deal worth up to $8M with the Panthers. Instead, the Cardinals signed J.J. Watt to a 2 year $28M contract with an added $3M in incentives, re-signed Dennis Gardeck to a one year $3.384M RFA 2nd round tender and Markus Golden to a two year $5M contract. In the 6th round of the draft, the Cardinals added a Markus Golden-like edge rusher in Duke’s Victor Dimukeje.

While Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim made it clear prior to the start of free agency that they are excited to “get Chandler Jones back”, thus far the FO and Jones have been unable to agree on a contract extension that is acceptable to both parties or on a modification of the current portion Jones’ unguaranteed $15.5M base salary —- which is why Jones is not attending the Cardinals mandatory mini-camp.

Chandler Jones’ situation is similar in some ways to Tyrann Mathieu’s, David Johnson’s and Patrick Peterson’s.

David Johnson, following 15 games on the IR in 2017, held out of the Cardinals’ 2018 mandatory mini-camp in his desire to receive a new, lucrative contract. As the Cardinals, who caved in and rewarded Johnson with a 3 year $39M deal making him one of the highest paid RBs in the NFL (the same contract they gave Tyrann Mathieu following his 2nd trip to the IR) learned the hard way, there is a great deal of risk in tearing up current deals, when they don’t have to, in favor of offering lucrative extensions to players coming off injuries.

Last year, Patrick Peterson was in a similar boat as Chandler Jones, as his base salary in the final year of his 5 year $78M contract with $48M guaranteed, was not guaranteed until Week 1 of the regular season. However, Peterson lost whatever leverage he might have had in demanding a contract extension when he incurred a 6 game PED and coverup suspension and then came back from it out of form and overtly unmotivated.

Chandler Jones has far outperformed Patrick Peterson over the past four years and Jones has been a more galvanizing force as a team leader. However, to be frank, like Peterson, Jones has been a liability versus the run, establishing contain and being a reliable tackler in the open field, all of which are requirements of playing 34 OLB. Jones’ outstanding sack and pressure numbers have given the Cardinals a reason to overlook the deficiencies in Jones’ game.

However, the now apparent change in the Cards’ front office’s modus operandi is to no longer turn as blind eye to deficiencies, even and especially when detected in their star players.

In essence, the salient change in Bidwill’s and Keim’s m.o. is: our message to the players —- if the quality of your overall play is not commensurate with your pay, we intend to hold you to the highest standards, without exception.

Steve Keim has told us repeatedly this off-season that the executive priorities of the organization this off-season were:

1 —- to re-define the veteran leadership on the team

2 —- to get more physical on both sides of the ball

When you look at why the Cardinals signed Rodney Hudson, Brian Winters, A.J. Green, James Connor, Rondale Moore and Michal Menet on offense and then J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler, Markus Golden, Dennis Gardeck, Tanner Vallejo, Robert Alford, Shawn Williams, Darqueze Dennard, Xavier Williams, Zaven Collins, Marco Wilson, Victor Dimukeje, Tay Gowan and James Wiggins on defense and Zeke Turner, Charles Washington, Chris Banjo, Darrell Daniels, Andy Lee and Matt Prater on special teams —- what do they all have in common?

With Steve Keim this off-season —- the words and the music have matched!

Plus, it feels like Keim still has an ace or two up his sleeve, because he has quietly kept $10.9M in cap space, after signing all of the team’s draft picks, save Rondale Moore.

It looks apparent that Michael Bidwill, Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury conducted a genuinely honest assessment of what has been holding the organization back, personnel-wise and front office-wise, and decided to take direct and immediate action to try to resolve the team’s deficiencies.

In essence, this year more than any other, it looks like the Cardinals have made it their top priority to learn from previous mistakes and their costly errors in judgement.

Now that’s the kind of road map that no one can steal!