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Blogs

A year of Keim time

Posted by Darren Urban on January 8, 2014 – 9:38 am

A year ago today, the Cardinals hired Steve Keim to be their general manager.

It turned out to be a pretty good first year on the job.

Churning the roster quite a bit — there were 193 roster moves in that span — Keim orchestrated an overhaul that produced five more wins in 2013 than 2012, and while the playoffs didn’t work out, it was a remarkable turnaround. He got a solid starting quarterback for basically a sixth-round draft pick. He got a guy who looks like a viable long-term running back, a dynamic playmaker both running and receiving, with a sixth-round pick. He won the waiting game with what looked like would be high-priced veteran free agents, getting Karlos Dansby, Eric Winston and John Abraham at his price and then watching them produce. There are others, of course. You needed a lot of quality changes to get to where the Cards went.

Honestly, it’s hard to see many misses this first year out of the box. You wonder what second-round pick Kevin Minter will be, but it’s not like the linebacker flopped, he just didn’t get a chance to play because Dansby — a spectacular post-draft free agent signing, again, on the Cards’ terms — was so good. Yes, the Cards committed to left tackle Levi Brown last season (make no mistake, had their been a left tackle there at No. 7 last draft they would have taken him) but Keim was smart enough to cut ties relatively quickly when it wasn’t working out. You move on when you need to move on.

In many ways, Keim’s second offseason is going to be more difficult than his first. The bar was set low. This offseason, expectations are much higher, but the Cardinals face many of the same issues — unknowns at many positions because of impending free agency, a tight salary cap, and some nasty cap numbers on existing contracts. (And that doesn’t include the possibility of signing cornerback Patrick Peterson to a long-term and no d0ubt hefty contract extension.)

Keim has surrounded himself with quality guys, like vice president of player personnel Jason Licht (who figures to be a GM himself someday) and director of football administration/salary cap guru Mike Disner (who, if you missed it, was just named to the Forbes 30 rising stars under age 30 in sports list). The front office is strong right now. It starts at the top.


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How trade impacts the salary cap

Posted by Darren Urban on October 3, 2013 – 4:53 pm

Now that the Levi Brown trade is official, what exactly does it mean for the Cardinals? Other than starting Bradley Sowell at left tackle.

– The Cardinals get a conditional draft pick. Many have asked what it is, or even, what conditional means. Terms were not specified, but a conditional pick means the teams have agreed to two possibilities, a baseline pick the Cards will get regardless, and then a chance for that pick to be higher in the draft if Brown meets a certain criteria — either number of starts or percentage of snaps or something like that. The teams have not said what the possible picks are. I’d be surprised if we were talking anything higher than the fifth round. Maybe lower. For instance, the Steelers could offer a seventh, with it becoming a sixth if Brown starts a certain number of games.

UPDATE: According to the NFL transactions list released by the league, the Cardinals and Steelers swapped “unannounced” draft picks in the deal — meaning in addition to getting Brown, the Cards also sent a pick to the Steelers, while the Steelers sent a pick to the Cards. The details of what went where are unknown. And I’m sure it still has to do with some sort of playing time condition.

– The Cards will take a pretty significant hit of “dead” cap money next season. According to Brian McIntyre (and also reported elsewhere), the Cardinals gave Brown a $3.086 million bonus as they traded him. That represents most of the $3.6 million or so Brown was still due in salary this season, minus the $546,000 or so the Steelers will pay him as a veterans minimum salary. (Brown is due $715,000 a season at vet minimum at his experience; That number is divided by 17 weeks and figured for the 13 weeks left.)

That extra bonus pro-rates over the final four seasons of Brown’s deal. It means some goes on the Cards’ 2013 cap, but most goes on the 2014 salary cap. Brown was already going to cost $4.2 million in dead money (on his original signing bonus being pushed into next season) and the “new” bonus creates another $2.3M — totaling $6.5 million of “dead” Brown cap money in 2014. It lowered the cap hit the Cards are taking from Brown in 2013 by almost $3 million, however, creating more cap space if they want to re-sign anyone during the season.


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Keim with an eye on 2015

Posted by Darren Urban on September 24, 2013 – 3:40 pm

The Cardinals have a three-year outlook for their roster, the prism in which the front office and General Manager Steve Keim views the team. That’s how they look at the salary cap, and how they evaluate contracts.

Not surprisingly, the sorting of big contracts that occurred this past offseason, contracts that were put in place before he became GM, will happen again after this season. And Keim thinks the Cards are still an offseason away from being able to get where the Cards want to be.

“There are going to be some tough decisions to be made after the season based on the numbers, just looking at the three-year view,” Keim said on a special edition of the Cardinals Underground podcast. “We will obviously have to make some tough decisions like we did this past year after the season. The one thing fans and other people don’t realize (is) there are certain contracts that bind you and you can’t do anything (with) and you have the dead money factor.

“Once we get to 2015 I feel really good where we are going to be from a salary-cap standpoint.”

Keim made tough decisions this past offseason, jettisoning Adrian Wilson, among many others. He didn’t name names. But the contracts that will likely be under the microscope aren’t hard to narrow down. Big money is owed to offensive linemen Daryn Colledge (with Earl Watford, Nate Potter and Paul Fanaika as cheaper options) and Levi Brown. Darnell Dockett is due a lot of money, although he just had a big three-sack game and dominated. Patrick Peterson is in line for an expensive extension. Larry Fitzgerald and his $18 million salary cap number might have to be reworked. None of this means the Cards have to cut people, but guys might be asked to take pay cuts. There are minefields to maneuver for Keim, and he acknowledged, the Cards are “handicapped to a degree.”

Philosophy-wise, it dovetails with Keim’s thoughts anyway. “I’ve always felt it was more important to get rid of a player a year too early than a year too late, because when players get to a certain point in his career and he starts to decline it can have a negative effect on your football team.”

(There’s Keim below, talking to Tyrann Mathieu’s parents before the Saints game. I feel confident Mathieu will not be going anywhere next year.)

The full Cardinals Underground podcast is posted right here.

KeimpicUSE


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Cap space and roster churn

Posted by Darren Urban on September 10, 2013 – 4:03 pm

GM Steve Keim has said many times he will continue to churn the roster at the bottom if necessary, and I have no doubt that will happen. But there are also financial restraints in the form of the salary cap that have to be accounted for too when it comes to player moves.

Right now, the Cardinals are confirmed to have slightly more than $4 million in salary cap space. Most players (if not all) signed from this point forward will be for minimum contracts, and will have minimum impact on the salary cap (and if they are signed and another guy cut, it may end up a virtual cap wash.) With that small amount of space too, it limits contract extensions in season.

(In fact, as overthecap.com noted, it may be a slow year for in-season extensions across the league because of tight cap space.)

Who would be in line for an in-season extension? There are plenty of guys under one-year deals, but judging both by value and a potential future, of the players due to be unrestricted free agents after the season, I could see guard Paul Fanaika, tight end Jim Dray, tackle Eric Winston or defensive end/linebacker Matt Shaughnessy. That doesn’t mean they all will (or any of them, for that matter) or even that we are talking about giant contracts. But I wouldn’t be shocked. It’ll depend on how they play too.

Of course, the big extension everyone is expecting/waiting on is one for cornerback Patrick Peterson. The Cards can’t start those talks until the day after the regular season based on the CBA and Peterson’s need to be three years into his career (the 49ers have the same thing going on with Colin Kaepernick right now.) But he’ll be extended, probably to a pretty rich deal, and he’ll be the defensive cornerstone guy like Larry Fitzgerald has been the guy on the offensive side.

PetersonRosterUSE

 


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As expected, vets were good bargain for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2013 – 11:09 pm

General Manager Steve Keim talked about the organization’s ability to stay patient with certain offseason moves, and that has never been made more clear than the recent signings of tackle Eric Winston and John Abraham. The contract details are now leaking out, and they affirm what had basically been a given — both moves were financially smart for the Cards.

Overthecap.com has all the details here, but here are the basic facts: Winston not only has a $840,000 salary but only a $160,000 signing bonus. He also has a $250,000 roster bonus and a bunch of incentives (likely tied to playing time, which are going to be hit if Winston stays in the starting lineup. That could add another $750,000. Still, $2 million for Winston is a good deal if he is starting. Abraham gets a $1 million salary, a $1 million signing bonus and a $100,000 roster bonus — again, $2.1 million for a solid pass rusher. A good deal. (Abraham is scheduled to make $2.5M in salary next season plus possible escalators and none of it is guaranteed.)

Again, the Cards end up with good players at the right price and the flexibility to move on in 2014 if need be. Keim will stay proactive with their players on short-term deals. “We have a lot of guys who are on one-year deals who we’ll need to actively approach,” Keim said, “and try and get long-term deals done with them and reward them like we have talked about.”

According to the latest salary cap report, the Cards still have $7.8M in salary cap space. I’m not sure that yet includes Jonathan Cooper’s estimated $2.6M cap number.


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One year at a time

Posted by Darren Urban on July 26, 2013 – 9:28 am

Eric Winston, a player who when he was first released was expected to command a healthy contract for multiple years, signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals. It was another impressive step for GM Steve Keim, who has managed to corral quite a few players in one-year deals, providing flexibility going forward and incentive to those players to try and earn an extension.

It also has created quite a lengthy list of players that, as of now, are set to become unrestricted free agents after the season:

– S Jonathan Amaya

– CB Javier Arenas

– S Yeremiah Bell

– CB Antoine Cason

– LB Karlos Dansby

– TE Jim Dray

– K Jay Feely

– TE Jeff King

– RB Rashard Mendenhall

– G Chilo Rachal

– WR Andre Roberts

– DE Frostee Rucker

– DE/LB Matt Shaughnessy

– TE Kory Sperry

– S Curtis Taylor

– LB Reggie Walker

– T Eric Winston

– P Dave Zastudil

Obviously, not every name on that list is someone that the Cards are going to want to keep around long-term. Others will have to earn that right. It also doesn’t include other situations, like the inevitable Patrick Peterson extension that is assumed to be coming at some point after the season. The Cardinals definitely have a plan, however. Flexibility is key for Keim, who is trying to rebuild the roster.


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How Fitz wears the cap

Posted by Darren Urban on July 12, 2013 – 10:42 am

When Larry Fitzgerald agreed to his last contract, he had been out eating at a local restaurant and had to be summoned to a press conference. Fitz loves getting his contracts but truth be told, he’d rather not have to talk about them. That part is something he’d rather keep behind the scenes. But this is professional sports, where the public knows what you are making and also, when what you are making becomes an issue that must be accounted for when it comes to building a team.

The recent new deal for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford highlights the reality of the NFL: Sometimes, a player’s salary cap number becomes (or will become) so unwieldy it must be addressed. There’s no way to know how the Cardinals see Fitzgerald’s current deal in that light, but there are decisions that have to be made over the next year or two — decisions Fitz and his agents certainly understood when they signed this pact in 2011.

This season, Fitzgerald has a salary cap figure of “only” $10.25 million. It’s not insignificant, yet it is much smaller than what is to come. In 2014, that cap figure jumps to $18M. In 2015, it jumps again to $21.25M. That’s a pretty big chunk of cap to eat up when most believe there will be no significant leap in the cap space in the next couple of years. (There are various opinions on that, given the new TV contract that will eventually kick in, but my understanding is that the cap will go up slow and steady rather than in one fell swoop.) Both cap hits are scheduled to be the largest in the league in that year for any wide receiver, even more than Calvin Johnson, who signed a mega-deal after Fitz’s.

The Cardinals worked hard to clear cap space this year for the future and have more non-Fitz choices to make again next season. Given how many free-agents-to-be they will have after this season, they can deal with Fitz’s hefty 2014 number. Will they want to? Can they again in 2015? Right now, the only large extension coming down the road is one for Patrick Peterson, who is eligible for a new deal as soon as this season ends. I’ve heard from fans wondering/concerned if they might trade Fitzgerald, but that doesn’t seem practical for a couple of reasons. One, dealing Fitz in 2014 would saddle the Cards with $13M in dead cap space (and doing it for 2015 would be $8M in dead space.) Besides, barring a massive dropoff in play, he just means so much to the franchise both on and off the field. They certainly won’t just release him.

That leaves a couple of options. One is to play it out. It will hamstring some of the flexibility of GM Steve Keim, but it’s tough to know exactly where this team is going to be year-to-year and you don’t have to make any decisions now. There is also the possibility of reworking Fitzgerald’s deal — again — to make it more team-friendly. What does that mean? It would mean Fitz would get another hefty upfront payday, something he wouldn’t turn down. That, of course, would push the Fitz cap issue further into the future. But that’s how it works. The last time Fitz talked about his contract, he and Michael Bidwill talked about Larry eventually retiring as a Cardinal. I’m sure that’s still the plan.


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Flip of calendar means more Cards’ cap room

Posted by Darren Urban on May 31, 2013 – 2:57 pm

Over the weekend, the Cardinals will not make any roster moves. And they will pick up $3 million in salary cap room.

That’s because they had designated the release of guard Adam Snyder back in April as a “June 1″ cut, meaning that they could take the normal pro-rated hit on the salary cap this season from his remaining signing bonus and push the rest into 2014 instead of absorbing it all this season. Snyder still had $4 million left of dead money. Now, the Cardinals will deal with $1 million of it this season and the other $3 million against their 2014 salary cap.

Because the Cardinals wanted to cut Snyder before the actual June 1 date, they were forced to carry Snyder’s entire hit on the cap until actually June 1. (It didn’t really affect the Cards much, but any team tight against the cap doesn’t have the same kind of leeway.) That’s why the Cards this weekend will see their cap room grow even though they aren’t making any transactions. Teams can use the June 1 designation on up to two players a season. Only 11 cut players were named as such this offseason across the league and only one team, the Dolphins, used up their two-man limit. One of those players was linebacker Karlos Dansby, who of course ended up here. The Dolphins gain $6M of cap space this weekend just on Dansby’s situation alone.

As for the Cardinals, who have $7.8M of cap space today according to the NFLPA, that stands to grow to $10.8M when Snyder’s slot kicks in. The $3M dead money for next year is nothing to sneeze at, but the Cardinals took most of their dead money medicine this year and have a bunch of guys who will be free agents after this season, so there is still a lot of room to maneuver with the 2014 cap. Not sure what the salary cap landscape is going to look like yet, but it isn’t expected to jump much again and that will likely mean a similar offseason market as this year.

– Apropos of nothing, other than I think it’s an awesome anecdote, check out this story by Sam Farmer about Vince Lombardi and the first Super Bowl. Priceless.


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A visit, a signing and some money

Posted by Darren Urban on May 14, 2013 – 9:25 am

Some things to consider on Tuesday, as the Cardinals are set to unveil their complete team in on-field work for the first time as organized team activities begin later this morning:

– The one-year contract of Karlos Dansby calls for a salary of $1.25 million this season, according to the NFLPA. Kent Somers reports Dansby also got a $1 million signing bonus. That’s $2.25M (yes, I am sharp at math), which is obviously well below the $6M-plus Dansby had been originally scheduled to receive from the Dolphins before he was released. The Cardinals had approximately $8.5 $10.5 (forgot about the money cleared in the Hoyer release) million in cap space before Dansby (A $2.25M cap hit, obviously) and second-round pick Kevin Minter (who should count about $800,000 against the cap, and I’d figure he’ll slide into the top 51).

– One roster move already this morning. The Cardinals decided to sign tryout tight end Kyle Auffray out of New Hampshire, releasing undrafted rookie cornerback Prentiss Waggner. Again, with 90 on the roster (because all the unsigned draftees figure to sign sooner rather than later) the Cards will continue to cut for every player they sign.

– Could there be another potential veteran signee? Josina Anderson is reporting that tackle Max Starks is visiting the Cardinals today, including a physical. Don’t read too much into that — any vet is going to need a physical first, especially at the point in the career Starks is at. Starks has been available for a while and in the past, there was always a question of whether Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm would bring him in after working with him in Pittsburgh. Obviously, Bruce Arians also has worked with him given Arians’ Steelers ties and offensive coordinator (and offensive line coach) Harold Goodwin also worked with Starks in Pittsburgh. We’ll see if that develops. Starks has also talked to the O-line-needy Chargers.


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Flexibility in constructing the offensive line

Posted by Darren Urban on April 10, 2013 – 1:20 pm

The Cardinals finally added an offensive lineman in free agency Wednesday, signing veteran guard Chilo Rachal. What does that mean for the line going forward? Something. And nothing.

Adding parts that can help in some way, shape or form — starter or depth — has been one of the mantras for General Manager Steve Keim. Rachal could end up as either. So obviously, his arrival carries that significance. But it isn’t going to impact the draft. If the Cardinals decide, for instance, Chance Warmack is their guy at No. 7, they’ll take him and figure it out from there. If they want to take a tackle like Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson and move Bobby Massie to guard, they will do that too. If their top pick is a pass rusher, maybe we see a line of LT Brown, LG Colledge, C Sendlein, RT Massie and a battle between Snyder and Rachal. Or there could be an offensive lineman chosen in the second round or third round — or maybe even later — who could be part of the mix.

At this point, there are dozens of ways this can go, and the Cardinals have set it up just so they have that flexibility. I could see them letting a veteran go in a June 1 move if they felt they had enough other pieces for their puzzle. Certainly Keim has shown he isn’t afraid to make such moves. I’m not certain there couldn’t be a veteran offensive lineman added later in the offseason either.

(The Cardinals, prior to the Rachal signing I would guess, had $9.496 million in salary cap space as of Wednesday according to the NFLPA.)

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to the Cardinals and the draft. The braintrust has reiterated a few times how deep in offensive line talent this class is, beyond just the top 10. Will it shock me to see them pick a player that isn’t an offensive lineman? Absolutely not. Stop me if you’ve heard this before — Keim believes in a difference-maker at the top. That doesn’t mean a difference-maker can’t be an offensive lineman if his grades are the right ones, but I truly believe the idea of reaching there for need over a guy graded much better makes Keim’s stomach turn.

ChiloBlogUSE


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