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Keim in a Corner

Syndication: Arizona Republic Michael Chow / USA TODAY NETWORK

in case you missed it, a couple of days ago Kyle Odegard of compare.bet tweeted:

Moments later, Ian Rapoport refuted Kyle’s claim by tweeting out that there was no such meeting. And suddenly, a tweet of Pat McAfee’s interview with Rapoport went viral.

Subsequently, this flurry of texts about a “sh%^ hit the fan” conference of the Cardinals’ brain trust turned into what is now being describe as “#MeetingGate.”

Of course, in the midst of the fray, I could not help myself from chiming in:

Regardless of whether anyone believes there was a tense, heated meeting, Ian Rapoport said the truthful part of Kyle Odegard’s claim was that Michael Bidwill is not a happy man right now —- and who can blame him?

So, after I offered my two cents to this twitterstorm, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. To be honest, I thought about it all night and awoke at 3 am wide-eyed and eager to share this with you. I usually don’t write threads on Saturday mornings, but today I feel compelled. I hope this gives you something to chew on while sipping your morning coffee.

Yesterday, as I was researching and writing up my list of contract moves and signings that I believe the Cardinals should make, I realized that, even with the salary cap expanding in a big way this off-season, the Cardinals at the moment do not have a lot of financial wiggle room.

As you may have seen, I tried my best to create as much cap space as I could in order to be able to sign a number of key free agents and then, as I searched the free agent pool, I arrived at the conclusion that it would seem impossible for the Cardinals to meet their various needs in free agency by lavishing any player with a lucrative double-digit a year contract.

There is really no way that the Cardinals could pay Chandler Jones what he is likely to command on the open market. As much as I would love to see Chandler Jones —-who in my opinion was Steve Keim’s best trade of all, because thus far Chandler has been the most productive and the most durable of all —- if Chandler wants to go to the highest bidder, he’s gone.

So, that was part one of the epiphany —-

Part two came when I felt an averse reaction to a @RaisingArizona article in which Steve Keim was being criticized for drafting Zaven Collins.

It troubles me when fans and pundits jump to the conclusion that a player, particularly a high draft pick, must be a BUST if the coaches aren’t playing him —- and, of course, that the GM is a total idiot.

I am here this morning to tell all of you that Steve Keim is not an idiot, The Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins picks were brilliant —- the problem for Steve Keim, which has now boxed him into a deep corner, is that he provided his defensive coaches with a couple of big, juicy filet mignons —- yet the coaches have since told him by “thanks, but no thanks” because, as it turns out (metaphorically), they are pescatarians.

Did you know that Isaiah Simmons missed a practice last week for what was described as “a family matter”?

While that might be the case —- would it surprise you if Isaiah was so upset to learn that he was going to split time with Tanner Vallejo in the team’s first playoff game since 2015 —-that Isaiah took a mental health day to ponder his future with the Arizona Cardinals?

Now —- no one at this point knows for sure whether Isaiah had a family issue to attend to, or not, but during a playoff week, didn’t his leave of absence seem incredibly untimely?

Think of the distraction that Isaiah’s absence may have caused for his teammates.

Distractions like these are what can lead to the kind of failure the team displayed during their 34-11 trouncing.

Do you know who perhaps could relate best to Isaiah Simmons’ frustration about being taken off the field in a playoff game?

Malcolm Butler.

Once a Super Bowl hero as a mere rookie (yes even the Pats will play undrafted rookies, let alone 1st round draft picks), Malcolm Butler was forced to watch his Patriots get scored on over and over by Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. Butler was relegated to the sidelines, in uniform, during his team’s improbable 41-33 loss in Super Bowl LII. Butler’s replacements for most of the game were Eric Rowe and Johnson Bademosi, both of whom were significant liabilities in pass coverage. yet, at no time did Belichick send a healthy Malcolm Butler into the game .

The point is —- these are the kinds of distractions that can have a ripple effect on the entire football team.

Malcolm Butler was Steve Keim’s most important free agent addition to the Cardinals’ secondary —- yet a recurring rumor as to why Butler shockingly elected to retire was that the Cardinals’ defensive coaches appeared to be set to start Marco Wilson and Robert Alford —- which struck a deep nerve for a player coming off his most productive season as a pro and one who in Super Bowl LII had to deal with humility of being benched at the worst possible time.

Of course, later on, there was the Rasul Douglas debacle.

At the time when the Packers poached Douglas off of the Cardinals; practice squad, in a year where team could protect three PS players each week, the coaches obviously thought that Luc Barcoo was a better player.

And so —- later in the season, when the Cardinals needed CB depth more than ever, with an NFC West title and a potential #3 seed on the line, they had to turn to a player who had only been with the team a little over a week.

The logical conclusion is at this point, how in the world can Steve Keim, or Michael Bidwill and Kliff Kingsbury for that matter, trust Vance Joseph and the current defensive coaches?

Keim’s in a corner.

Part two of the epiphany is that now, more than ever, with such little cap room to work with, the Cardinals need the coaches to play their top draft picks and develop them as quickly as possible.

The worst outcome would be to sit them and demoralize them —- and yet —-

The Cardinals’ cap, now within a year or two of having to pay Kyler Murray close to a fifth of the entire cap each year, is so limited that if the Cardinals don’t get maximum value out of their rookies and undrafted free agents, they aren’t going to be able to sustain a level of year-to-year success.

Nor are they going to be able to do what Steve Keim does best —- as in making blockbuster trades to acquire a Pro Bowl quality players—- because of the ever-tightening lid on their cap.

The Rams, 49ers and Seahawks, who should be jealous that he Cardinals have actually held on to their 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks, must be laughing inside that having the picks doesn’t matter when the Cardinals won’t even play their first round picks, or find the right niche for them.

Now, we all know of Steve Keim’s dubious draft record, which in the early part of his tenure as GM was epitomized by Bruce Arians’ publicly nicknaming Keim’s then most recent 1st round pick as “Knee Deep.”

Can you imagine how embarrassing that must have been not only, first and foremost, for D.J. Humphries —- but for Steve Keim?

Despite drafting 4 centers in 5 years, Keim stuck with A.Q. Shipley first over Evan Boehm (who was never really tried at center) and then over Mason Cole and Lamont Gaillard (Cole was traded and Gaillard was granted his request to be released this past off-season) and then the Cardinals had to turn around and give up a 3rd round pick to acquire Rodney Hudson. By the time Hudson went out due to injury and COVID-19 protocols, Michel Menet wasn’t even on the practice squad. All 4 centers couldn’t even help as backups. Mina Kimes is 100% correct about the Cardinals losing down the stretch due to a lack of depth.

Here’s the math: the Cardinals spent picks in the 4th, 3rd, 6th and 7th rounds on centers in a span of 5 years, and this year had to spend another 3rd in the Hudson trade.

Then there has been the merry-go-round of missed picks at WR, at WILB, at OLB, at CB, at DT, etc.

But —- I am here to avow that in recent drafts, Keim made a number of very good picks, some of which his coaches have mishandled.

Andy Isabella was not a bad pick. To this day, no WR on the team (other than perhaps Rodale Moore) can generate quick separation the way Izzy can. The problem is, Kyler Murray is loath to try to throw over the middle to smaller WRs —- not only with Izzy (who should have been playing the slot from the get-go), but with C-Kirk who was a slot dynamo at Texas A&M and now with Rondale Moore who was used this year pretty much strictly as a gadget player and not as a true slot, where Moore was a dynamo at Purdue. A myth was created by some Cardinals’ fans that Izzy wasn’t playing because he has awful hands.

Andy Isabella career stats: 31 receptions for 426 yards (13.7 average), 3 TDs and 2 drops ( one that was thrown at his shoestrings on a button hook and the other that was rifled through his fingertips on a quick slant).

The odds are pretty good that no one will be able to see what Izzy truly has to offer until he is playing the slot for the Patriots, Bills or some other team that relishes throwing to the slot. Unless, that is, the Cardinals do a Haason Reddick with Izzy and finally play to Izzy’s strengths in the final year of hos rookie contract.

Think of how valuable Andy’s emergence could be for the Cardinals in a year where adding talent at numerous need positions n free agency is going to be difficult.

Over the past three years, I believe that Steve Keim and his scouts deserve a lot of credit for adding the following talent to the Cardinals’ roster via draft capital: QB Kyler Murray, CB Byron Murphy, WR Andy Isabella, DE Zach Allen, Jalen Thompson, Deionte Thompson, Joshua Miles, Michael Dogbe, Isaiah Simmons, DeAndre Hopkins, Josh Jones, Leki Fotu, Rashard Lawrence, Eno Benjamin, Zaven Collins, Rondale Moore, Rodney Hudson, Marco Wilson, Victor Dimukeje, Tay Gowan (Zach Ertz), James Wiggins.

You knew exactly why Steve Keim anointed Zaven Collins the immediate starter at MIKE ILB? Right?

Out of pure frustration for watching passive play from the MIKE position —- and for watching Isaiah Simmons languish away on the bench for so much of the 2020 season.

The myth on Collins is that he’s a liability in pass coverage. I call BS on that. Have you watched his tapes at Tulsa. Here is a 96 yard game-winning interception he made:

Problem was —- come day one of training camp (and all season long), the first team reps went to Jordan Hicks. It didn’t matter that Zaven Collins made his physical presence felt in his very first game when he and J.J. Watt did a tag team on All-World RB Derrick Henry.

Vance Joseph and Billy Davis would rather have an organizer who plays the MIKE position as a safety, than employ a downhill, slobberknocking, Nagurski Award winning baller.

I, for one, am delighted to know that Steve Keim wants a slobberknocking baller.

At this point, if Steve Keim is going to save his job —- in my opinion, he has to do the following:

  1. Move on from Vance Joseph as DC. Not only for his and Billy Davis’ unwillingness to commit to Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, but for the glaring flaws in Vance’s schemes. Vic Fangio, Don “Wink” Martindale, Mike Zimmer and Romeo Crennell (who coached J.J, Watt to NFL DPOY awards), Wade Phillips, Jimmy Lake (Budda and Byron’s coach at Washington) and Gus Bradley (if Raiders hire new HC) are DC available. Have the new DC bring in the staff he wants. Then work in unison on a free agency and draft (personnel) plan that is catered to the DC’s style of defense. Ask him whether he thinks he can get a real good season out of DT Jordan Phillips. If not, move on.
  2. Learn from the past mistakes of holding on to Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones too long when the salaries in their final year were prohibitive. As much as there is to like about D.J. Humphries, he regressed some this past season, and if D.J. is unwilling to sign a new, more team-friendly deal, then recoup the $15M the team could save on D.J.’s contract. There’s a chance that a team or two might want to trade for D.J, Saving $15M on his $19.3M cap hit could then help re-sign or acquire 3-4 key players. Man, I hope D.J. works with the team to stay in Arizona.
  3. Get OL Coach and Running Game Coordinator Sean Kugler on the same page, particularly with regard to committing to Josh Jones at tackle (here again our Day 2 draft picks should be starting by year 3). Find a way to restructure Justin Pugh’s contract and then work together to add a free agent RG, so that Justin Murray can be the swing tackle/guard. Keep building on the depth up front. Find a more reliable backup center. Plus, Keim was an All-ACC guard —- there needs to have a serious discussion with Kugler about run blocking technique. Anyone who has coached offensive line play can see it —-even the folks at PFF, as 4 of the 5 starting OL graded in the 50s in run blocking (only D.J. scored in the 60s). As a unit, PFF ranked them 31st in the NFL in run blocking at 52.8. Why did Rodney Hudson have by far his worst season as a pro? Averaging consistent grades in the mid 70s in previous seasons, Hudson’s grade with the Cardinals this year was 56.9. We know he was valuable in settling the offense down —- and sometimes it takes a while to adjust to a new team, but when he went from the Chiefs to the Raiders his grades were 76.1 to 73.6. Not 73.5 with the Raiders last year to 56.9 with the Cardinals. Does Sean Kugler have the answers, or not? His linemen are standing up all too often on the snap (which negates the power in their hips and legs) —- where’s the drive blocking? You know the kind you practice on a 5 or 7 man sled? Steve Keim needs to know the answer to this. NFC West Run Blocking Grades: SF #1: 88.5; LAR #12: 76.6; SEA #17: 68.2; ARI #31: 52.8.
  4. Get Kliff Kingsbury to take much better advantage of Kyler Murray’s mobility. Make sure that Kingsbury employs Rondale Moore as a bona fide slot WR. Find a way to use Andy Isabella’s talent, or else trade him. Find a list of ways that the Cardinals offense will not grow predictable and stale down the stretch next season. Find ways in which Kyler can improve his tempo, his snaps, his ability to take what the defense gives him and his ability to put maximum pressure on the defense with his mobility. Run a better, smarter, time-managed two minute offense. Create stronger mismatches in the red zone —- and for crying out loud, attack teams when and where they are vulnerable at certain positions.
  5. Get with Buddy Morris and Matt Naylor to whip up a more effective training regimen in order to get the players in stronger shape but also to do their best to prevent the number of costly injuries that have plagued the team. Call the program “RAM BAM” —- it’s so sick and tiring to see not only Sean McVay dominate the Cardinals in relatively easy fashion, but it seems that every game the Rams win, the Cardinals suffer injuries to key players. Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, David Johnson to name just a few. Last year —-Kyler. This year —- DeAndre Hopkins, James Conner and Budda Baker. That sh%^ has to stop. The franchise needs to end the Rams’ “Arians Curse” once and for all.

So yeah, Kyle Odegard and Ian Rapoport, it’s a good time for a good ol’ “sh%^ hits the fan” meeting between Michael Bidwill, Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury. Two of their futures with the Cardinals and the direction of the team are likely depending on the outcome.