Steve Keim Vindicated

Mitch

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To hear Steve Keim talk about his latest draft pick is like watching a five star chef meticulously garnish and glaze a steaming platter of chateaubriand. Keim can deliver you his detailed scouting report of a draftee in a New York minute---no wasted words---no frill---just "scout speak" about bend, speed, length, football IQ, work ethic, leadership, motor, twitch, versatility, coachability. Keim's scouting rhetoric is a work of art.

Keim's first three years as Cardinals' GM were a ringing success. The team, under Keim's inaugural head coach, Bruce Arians (and BA's venerable staff), won 35 games, including a legendary OT home playoff win versus the Packers. Keim's fingerprints were all over the recipe---he traded for QB Carson Palmer---he re-signed WR Larry Fitzgerald when the rest of the NFL universe was urging him to go play for the Patriots---he signed All Pro LG Mike Iupati and highly regarded LT Jared Veldheer---he brought in a cadre of veterans like John Abraham, Dwight Freeney, Chris Johnson, Red Bryant and LaMar Wooodley on timely cap thrifty prove it deals---he drafted WR John Brown and RB David Johnson---he helped coin the term "money linebacker" when he turned Deone Bucannon, a college safety into a new age plug and play inside linebacker---he took the risk of drafting the Honey Badger and watched the Badger elevate and enervate the play of the entire defense to the point in 2015 of being a consideration for NFL's defensive player of the year award---Keim watched one of his undrafted free agents, Tony Jefferson turn into a Pro Bowl caliber safety. He permitted a film crew to chronicle on of the most exciting seasons in Cardinals' history, the 2015 "All or Nothing" campaign. However, alas, the documentary and the season ended abruptly with the Cardinals getting blown out in the NFC Championship game at Carolina.

The following two years, in contrast to the first three, have been bitterly disappointing. The level of the team's play significantly declined. The team looked stale, predictable, turnover-prone, oft-injured and complacent. Keim's draft picks were being heavily scrutinized and called out by the head coach. A veteran, whom Keim put a lot pf faith in, was deemed "a failure in progress" by the head coach. The kicking units choked away close games. The team got older and slower---while the coaches were loath to play rookies. Arians suffered through several health scares---the mood was testy and volatile and nerve wracking.

Last year, after vowing to the Cardinals' fans that he would be "very aggressive" in free agency, Keim wound up signing 3 older veterans---(who are the easiest to sign---particularly on the 2nd day of free agency---because there is far less competition to sign veterans past their primes). Thus, citing the need for new leadership, Keim elected to make an old team older. As it turned out, only 1 of the free veteran UFA signees (S Antoine Bethea) had a good year. Phil Dawson missed FGs with maddening regularity and Karlos Dansby, the new/old QB of the defense was constantly fighting off injuries and was playing like a slower version of his former self.

In the NFL draft, Steve Keim, after talking so often and passionately during the off-season about the prospects of drafting a QB, watched the Chiefs and Texans trade up right ahead of the Cardinals to take QBs Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson---and, for yet another year---the draft came and went without the Cardinals taking a QB on Day 1 or 2...or even Day 3.

With the Cardinals rapidly sinking in the NFC West and with a league-wide perception that the Cardinals lowball the majority of their own players when they hit free agency---if and when the coaches aren't denigrating the players in public or blaming the latest loss on the players' lack of leadership or their botching of simple assignments---the news comes today that Steve Keim has received a contract extension through 2022.

The fact is---that prior to this extension---Keim still had this year and a team option year in 2019 on his current deal. So why did Michael Bidwill find it so necessary to sign Steve Keim now to a multi-year extension?

Bidwill got burned by both of the head coaches he gave extensions to a year or two before they were necessary. In Ken Whisenhunt's and Bruce Arians' cases, after taking the team to the playoffs during their first three years, after they were rewarded with contract extensions, it was downhill from there. Maybe that's just an unfortunate coincidence. But, maybe not.

But there are some tell-tale signs about Bidwill's current mindset that are impossible to ignore. After BA retired at the end of the season, Bidwill and Keim interviewed BA's recommended candidates, the Cardinals' DC James Betttcher and the Falcons' STC Keith Armstrong---but ultimately Bidwill and Keim were enamored with the Panthers' DC Steve Wilks. Thus, ultimately, Bidwill and Keim didn't buy into BA's coaching tree and did their best to create a fresh clean slate and a swift departure from the previous regime.

With this in mind, Keim's extension feels like a very strong vindication and an exculpatory measure on Bidwill's part. In other words, Bidwill insists that Keim deserves to be rewarded for his diligence, a diligence that cannot be undone or mitigated by the shortcomings of the previous coaching staff. There is likely the sense that many of the previous shortcomings were the result of poor, stale coaching and a lack of player development.

Was it an uncanny coincidence that one of Steve Wilks' main talking points in his introductory press conference was his intention to hire a staff of coaches who can "relate to all kinds of players" in order to motivate them and develop their confidence?

Wilks also talked very passionately about every person in the building---from the players to the maintenance staff to the cafeteria crew---being held to the highest levels of accountability, so that each day makes everyone stronger and more united than the previous.

Steve Keim is a humble, diligent and passionate GM. He says he has made some mistakes, but is learning from them. With another first time head coach to assist and a brand new outlook, Steve Keim is facing the greatest challenge of his career. He needs to get the Cardinals caught up with the rest of the NFC West---which starts with signing or drafting a QB who can go toe to toe with Russell Wilson, Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo---not just this year---but for years to come. As a former offensive lineman, Keim must be beside himself every time he hears the echo of BA calling the offensive line a bunch of "turnstiles." The offensive line mess needs to be fixed asap. The WR and TE units are depleted. And on defense, there are question marks at linebacker and at CB.

Tough decisions need to be made about high salaried veterans such as Mike Iupati, Jared Veldheer, Deone Bucannon, and yes, unfortunately, the Honey Badger himself. Keim needs to free valuable cap space---he needs to carpe the diem in free agency or pull off another big trade or two---and he needs---more than ever--- to deliver a signature draft like the ones the Falcons, Rams and Saints have had recently.

Keim can now proceed with the complete confidence of Michael Bidwill, and with the assurance that he's been doing---what his boss believes---has been a great job all along.
 
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Heucrazy

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While I am going to miss BA, I am excited to hopefully see some rookies get playing time. I’ve often wondered if Keim took a lot of the heat for rookies not planning out when it maybe had more to do with BA regulating them to the 2nd team.
 

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While I am going to miss BA, I am excited to hopefully see some rookies get playing time. I’ve often wondered if Keim took a lot of the heat for rookies not planning out when it maybe had more to do with BA regulating them to the 2nd team.
Maybe none of our rookies got playing time because they didn’t deserve it. mayyybe BA knew that the draft was Keims weakness. Food for thought.
 

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Good writeup as usual Mitch. I'm very curious to see how this team performs under a "fresh" coaching staff. We see players leave here and thrive elsewhere - perhaps we'll see some of our own guys who haven't lived up to expectations thrive under a new staff & system, thus vindicating some of Keim's draft picks in the process. I agree completely with your analysis - the last 2 years have been a big letdown after a strong start. But I also think stability is important and that Keim deserves the extension he received. It sends the right message.

Amos Jones is gone, nowhere to go but up!
 

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I don't quite blame Keim for "bad" drafts when we've been picking late for the past few years. Buc, Nkemdiche, and Humphries were all players that had high upside, and when the roster was as deep as it was for a few years there, it's hard to draft guys who are going to hit the field. Now, has it worked out? I think Buc has, Robert hasn't, and Humphries kinda has and can still be. But they're all late picks. I disagree about needing to knock it out of the park... I think Keim has a plan for this team and we need to be patient instead of reactionary.
 

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BA and MB deciding for a clean slate tells me they started to get tired of BA’s same old game, stubborness and would be unable to take the team forward.
Surprised MB didn't get tired of SK's stubborness when it comes to drafting a QB. Especially after SK talked early on about swinging for a QB each and every year until you hit one. When you look at Keim's early round draft fails, it's even more headscratching. Bottom line is we shouldn't have extended SK. He is not the worst GM but certainly not better than average. In our division he is the worst GM imo. I understand going for it with Palmer and so on, but especially last year with Mahomes and Watson right in front of us and Palmer already on the decline, SK whiffed big-time!
 

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I don't quite blame Keim for "bad" drafts when we've been picking late for the past few years. Buc, Nkemdiche, and Humphries were all players that had high upside, and when the roster was as deep as it was for a few years there, it's hard to draft guys who are going to hit the field. Now, has it worked out? I think Buc has, Robert hasn't, and Humphries kinda has and can still be. But they're all late picks. I disagree about needing to knock it out of the park... I think Keim has a plan for this team and we need to be patient instead of reactionary.

I call BS. You're telling me we couldn't have drafted someone last year that would have seen the field more than Reddick? Or we couldn't have drafted someone instead of DJ that would have DRESSED at least ONCE that season? Keim deserves all the high-round draft criticism that comes his way. He just has to stop with the projects and stop trying to out-think everyone else in the draft with his small-school specials. These are the kinds of picks you make in the latter rounds, not in rounds 1-3.
 

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Maybe none of our rookies got playing time because they didn’t deserve it. mayyybe BA knew that the draft was Keims weakness. Food for thought.

It's always been my understanding that BA had a good amount of input on the draft and the draft board. Maybe BA iswas just as much to blame for poor choices as SK.
 

az jam

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Sorry Mitch but I strongly disagree with you on this. After the terrible disaster of losing to the Carolina Panthers in the Championship game after the 2015 season, Keim said he knew they had to get a pass rush. He traded for Chandler Jones and drafted Marcus Golden. He also drafted Nkemdiche. IMO, BA became very arrogant and “feeling his oats “ especially seeing him in the “All or Nothing” TV special. His whole mantra was Super Bowl ring not Super Bowl, The team was not prepared for the 2016 season. Training camp was a joke and Special Teams was a disaster that costs us 4 wins during the 2016 season. Everyone called for change and Amos Jones’ head. BA never held any of his coaches accountable. He threw all his players under the bus. Sorry Mitch but I hold BA responsible for the 2016 season not Keim. BA should have left after that season. BA’s heart was not into it this past 2017 season. He was concerned about his health and already considering retirement. Plus the injuries were just unreal.

However, I do hold Keim accountable for the qb situation. Not getting a qb in the draft and signing Gabbert was a mistake. That is on him for sure.

I like Keim and feel he is proactive unlike his predecessor Rod “the snail” Graves. But I feel that this offseason will be critical for the Cards. Just my two cents.
 

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Cards are pretty closed-lipped when it comes to the internal drama within the front office and also within the locker room. So far, everyone has been 'old-school' quiet when it comes to the dynamics surrounding BA-SK-MB. Even the local media abides by that model and we don't get the kind of explosive soap opera reporting in the newspaper/radio/TV news that you see in some NFL cities.

With BA and SK, MB set the responsibilities with their hire: the GM had final say on the draft and personnel, BA had control of the team on the field. BA is/was a forceful enough personality to strongly advocate for who he wanted via draft---and even voiced his strong opinion on who should replace him as he went out the door with his retirement. But SK is equally bullheaded over his turf---there had to be some foul-mouthed 'debates' leading up to the draft war room selections.

Go back and look at some of BA's interviews leading up to the several drafts when he was with the team. BA would constantly hype up the QBs and make statements such as 'there are some strong arms in this draft, etc.' Yet when draft time came around, SK would stick to his magic BPA draft board and not make the necessary trade or pick. Got to believe that this drove BA bananas---he made repeated statements over the years that one of his goals was to leave the Cards with a QBOTF. Hard to do when the GM doesn't even bring in a drafted QB for the head coach to play with. About the best SK did for BA in the draft was Logan Thomas---after that 4th round pick failed, believe that SK just went about his business controlling the draft. The only serious attempt at a QBOTF was to bring in Gabbert---while BA commented that BG could win for the Cards this year . . . it looks as if that is another failed QB experiment. It remains to be seen if the new staff/SK have the same grade on BG.

So, what to make of BA's retirement? Until we get the inside soap opera evidence, it is speculation as to what happened. My opinion is that CP was the one who initiated BA's final retirement decision. Even though CP and BA had both signed extensions for 2018---CP decided he had enough (can you blame him given the constant beating and injuries/). When BA then looked at his options at QB combined with his own health concerns---he also decided to ride off into the Arizona sunset with CP. No doubt there was some 'gottcha' in the decision vs. SK for not drafting a QB for BA to mentor.

The master plan (my opinion) was to keep CP and BA together for this season and finally draft a QB for BA to mentor. SK had to project the many decent QB prospects in this draft when he put together his plan with CP+BA and their eventual retirement. Looking at our draft position and cap, BA probably saw the same writing on the wall that so many fans see---we are really in a tight spot when it comes to drafting a QB high on SK's draft board. With CP and BA leaving, SK is now in a position of having to bring in a new coaching staff and getting them a QB who can implement the O that SW and McCoy want to install. To me, it looks more and more like a bridge vet and a BPA QB at #15 if SK's conservative and BPA draft history translates to this year. It would be totally out of SK's past history to toss multiple draft picks to move up---unless that was part of the overall plan for this year to begin with.

How does this result in an extension for SK? After all, if he is the one managing the draft---how does he earn a new contract when we are now without a single QB under contract? The only rationale that I can cook up is that SK did exactly what MB wanted him to do with CP and BA on the team---WIN NOW!. That is the mandate of someone who wants to get that SB trophy for his aging Father. Cards came within an injured finger of playing for that SB in our own stadium. Got to believe that MB's heart was broken that it didn't happen and his Father was not provided the experience to raise that championship trophy in his home stadium. Given the WIN NOW mandate, SK proceeded to draft based on his BPA draft board---the whole QBOTF was put on hold in an effort to bring in players that would push the Cards to that final victory. So, MB can't fire SK for pursuing that SB even at the expense of a QBOTF when that is what MB wanted all along.

MB could easily scapegoat SK and fire him to go along with BA and CP retirement decisions. Instead, MB rewarded SK for being a good employee and doing what the boss wanted.

Did BA purposely 'redshirt' some of SK's high draft picks?? Sounds pretty soap opera to even suggest and is something we may never know. Yet it is not too much to expect a #1 pick to come in and immediately contribute---unless you want to send a message to the GM that you are not happy with the pick that is not the QB you wanted and is a player picked out of position.
 

football karma

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The only rationale that I can cook up is that SK did exactly what MB wanted him to do with CP and BA on the team---WIN NOW!.

isnt this pretty obvious?

And it is a rational strategy: aging QB, aging star WR ( who, oh-by-the-way, is the face of the Arizona tenure of the Cardinals, and arguably the most popular pro athlete in Arizona and only needs a SB Ring to cap off an all time great career ) and a HC who is good, but clearly near the end of his run. You want to leverage that to get a ring -- not invest in a guy who **might** be a QBOF.


I have no issue with the strategy. We can talk execution (i.e. Reddick over a variety of choices, paying Gresham/Badger instead of Campell or Jefferson ) all day though ---

but if the Cards had pulled off a "Saints 2017" -- another team with an aging QB in the last year of his contract, and who havent addressed the QB position in a while -- and had one of the great all time drafts that put them into real QB contention -- nobody (almost) would be complaining today about "no QB on the roster"

it was the FO equivalent to "no risk it, no biscuit" The strategy failed.



.
 
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Mitch

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Sorry Mitch but I strongly disagree with you on this. After the terrible disaster of losing to the Carolina Panthers in the Championship game after the 2015 season, Keim said he knew they had to get a pass rush. He traded for Chandler Jones and drafted Marcus Golden. He also drafted Nkemdiche. IMO, BA became very arrogant and “feeling his oats “ especially seeing him in the “All or Nothing” TV special. His whole mantra was Super Bowl ring not Super Bowl, The team was not prepared for the 2016 season. Training camp was a joke and Special Teams was a disaster that costs us 4 wins during the 2016 season. Everyone called for change and Amos Jones’ head. BA never held any of his coaches accountable. He threw all his players under the bus. Sorry Mitch but I hold BA responsible for the 2016 season not Keim. BA should have left after that season. BA’s heart was not into it this past 2017 season. He was concerned about his health and already considering retirement. Plus the injuries were just unreal.

However, I do hold Keim accountable for the qb situation. Not getting a qb in the draft and signing Gabbert was a mistake. That is on him for sure.

I like Keim and feel he is proactive unlike his predecessor Rod “the snail” Graves. But I feel that this offseason will be critical for the Cards. Just my two cents.

Not sure how we are disagreeing, az jam, except that how do you explain Keim's so-called "aggressive" approach to free agency last year? I pretty much agree with most of what you are saying---and think that Keim should have put his foot down on Amos Jones and should have taken a far more aggressive approach to acquiring a QB---he should have done it three years ago instead of re-signing Drew Stanton to another 3 year deal at $4M a year. By now the new QB from 3 years ago would be well experienced and poised to excel.
 

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He doesn’t get vindicated until we see a turn around. He has no excuses now with a new regime he picked and job security for now. How he builds this roster for next year and how much success it has will determine how good a GM he is.
 
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Mitch

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It's always been my understanding that BA had a good amount of input on the draft and the draft board. Maybe BA iswas just as much to blame for poor choices as SK.

We know that BA insisted on having Palmer and Stanton all 5 years. That in itself is an indicator that it was all about keeping favorites and trying to win now at the expense of leaving the cupboard bare.

I wonder if BA was extra high on Reddick because he's a Temple kid and the draft was in Philly?

But, the Nkemdiche pick was orchestrated and vetted by SK and MB. BA approved when MB did.

So, it's hard to know exactly. I think that if BA had more of a say, then we would have seen at least one offensive skill player (QB, RB, WR) taken in the 1st round the past 5 years. instead we saw 2 OL, 2 LBs and a DT.
 
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Mitch

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He doesn’t get vindicated until we see a turn around. He has no excuses now with a new regime he picked and job security for now. How he builds this roster for next year and how much success it has will determine how good a GM he is.

Yes. My point in the article is that MB has vindicated SK. I think if we polled the fans, it would be a much different story.
 
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Mitch

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I call BS. You're telling me we couldn't have drafted someone last year that would have seen the field more than Reddick? Or we couldn't have drafted someone instead of DJ that would have DRESSED at least ONCE that season? Keim deserves all the high-round draft criticism that comes his way. He just has to stop with the projects and stop trying to out-think everyone else in the draft with his small-school specials. These are the kinds of picks you make in the latter rounds, not in rounds 1-3.

Stout, while I hope and believe that Reddick will turn out to be a very good pick by SK, I thought the slam dunk player at #15 was FS Malik Hooker. Keim may have had some intel on Hooker (probably medical related) and it was surprising that he slid past #13. I also thought TE O.J. Howard could have been a game changer or the two CBs Marlon Humphrey and Gareon Conley---

But if we go by rookies seasons, if they were drafting Reddick to have a future at ILB, it looks like they made the right call in passing over Reuben Foster, but the Lions' pick at #21, Jarrad Davis had a very good rookie season at ILB. Davis was injured during the draft process which made the pick a little more tenuous, but man Davis is a baller.
 

Solar7

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I call BS. You're telling me we couldn't have drafted someone last year that would have seen the field more than Reddick? Or we couldn't have drafted someone instead of DJ that would have DRESSED at least ONCE that season? Keim deserves all the high-round draft criticism that comes his way. He just has to stop with the projects and stop trying to out-think everyone else in the draft with his small-school specials. These are the kinds of picks you make in the latter rounds, not in rounds 1-3.
I'm not a fan of the Reddick pick, but I think we got caught rolling the dice that one of our two QBs would see the field and panicked because of Foster's off the field concerns. I think we hoped we could plug the guy in quickly.

But for DJ and Nkemdiche, I think we picked the guys with the most raw talent that were left at that time - who could be key replacement players for us down the line.

Regardless, Keim has done pretty well in his tenure in rounds 2-3.
 
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Mitch

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Spot on about Hooker, Mitch. That should have been the pick, IMO.

My guess is, Stout, that the Cardinals had concerns about Hooker's core injuries and at the same time they had a plan all along to trade up for Budda Baker in round 2.

I believe that Haasan Reddick was the top remaining player on their board, so they went with BPA. They had 10 minutes to recover from learning that their top choice QB Deshaun Watson had just been snagged by the Texans---so they reverted back to their board. I imagine too that they were hoping to field calls to trade down, but no one called. Keim always says they need to trust in their board and with a mere 10 minutes to make a decision, that's what they did.

I know many fans here are down on Reddick, but he is a tremendous athlete who was thrust too quickly into a role that was foreign to him and it had his head spinning. Let's hope moving forward that the Cardinals stop drafting the top picks and switching them to positions they have never played before.

Now---only time will tell if the Cardinals would have been better off drafting FS Malik Hooker and then taking Raekwon McMillan or Zach Cunningham in round two (and thus keeping this year's 4th round pick they gave up in the Baker trade).

Hooker was having a good season until he tore his ACL and MCL. McMillan tore his ACL in training camp, but Cunningham was very productive with the Texans (90 tackles and 1 FF). I know many fans here were high on Cunningham, thus props to them.
 
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Arz101

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My guess is, Stout, that the Cardinals had concerns about Hooker's core injuries and at the same time they had a plan all along to trade up for Budda Baker in round 2.

I believe that Hasaan Reddick was the top remaining player on their board, so they went with BPA. They had 10 minutes to recover from learning that their top choice QB Deshaun Watson had just been snagged by the Texans---so they reverted back to their board. I imagine too that they were hoping to field calls to trade down, but no one called. Keim always says they need to trust in their board and with a mere 10 minutes to make a decision, that's what they did.

I know many fans here are down on Reddick, but he is a tremendous athlete who was thrust too quickly into a role that was foreign to him and it had his head spinning. Let's hope moving forward that the Cardinals stop drafting the top picks and switching them to positions they have never played before.

I can believe this is exactly what may have transpired on that fateful (for not picking a QB) day in the draft room.
 

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