If you are an NFL or even a sports follower, you have had to be living under a rock not to know that Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, the co-defensive player of the year in the SEC, came out Sunday publicly as a gay man. It spawned countless articles/talk show conversations/tweets on the subject, what it meant, and how the NFL might accept Sam as he enters the NFL draft.
Sam, at 6-1 1/2 and 260 pounds, would project to an outside linebacker in the Cards’ system. Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf Show” Friday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7, was asked how the Cardinals would interpret the Sam news when it came to evaluating him.
“Let me say this, and I want to make this clear,” Keim said. “Every player we evaluate for the upcoming draft, we judge them on their physical skill-set, we judge them on their football character, we judge them on their ability to learn the (playbook), and we judge them on their medical history. Race, religion, sexual orientation, those aspects are never even brought into the process. What I am concerned about is, ‘How talented is Michael Sam?’ That’s number one. Is he a good teammate? Is he good in the locker room? Is he smart? Is he competitive? And what does his medical history look like?
“If he is a good teammate, and he’s a good person, he’s going to be fine in your locker room. You teammates are going to accept him because of the person and player he is. Not those other things. We will look at Michael Sam no differently than any other player in this draft.”
Whether the Cardinals go after Sam is to be determined. I don’t know much about Sam the football player, but MMQB.com did a very good and extensive video breakdown of his season and made it sound like, as a player, he would be a project. The Cardinals, don’t forget, already have one of those at outside linebacker, after drafting Alex Okafor last season and then having Okafor lose most of his rookie season after an injury. They also are on the constant lookout for depth at that position. Forget Sam’s big announcement. The Cards need draft picks that can contribute — which goes to the point Keim was making.
Personally, I don’t see why Sam’s orientation would be an issue. It obviously hasn’t held him back up until this point. Why would that change now?
Tags: draft, Michael Sam, Steve Keim
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That the Cardinals will likely consider signing a left tackle in free agency would be no surprise. Who the targets might be remain mostly speculation, especially since there is still a chance some of them won’t make it to the open market, whether they are signed to an extension before March 11 or are given the franchise tag. Kansas City’s Branden Albert is the most notable choice (and there was a report out of Kansas City that the Chiefs will let Albert walk). There is also the Ravens’ Eugene Monroe, the Raiders’ Jared Veldheer or the Bengals’ Anthony Collins.
Whatever the Cards decide to do — at tackle or another spot — they will be prepared. That’s what General Manager Steve Keim and his front office group have been doing in the run-up to the Scouting combine, building their free-agent board for a second straight season. Last year, the Cards did the same, and ended up signing seven of the top nine players they had listed (which included one of their own free agents, safety Rashad Johnson.)
That board is more complicated than just listing the top talent on the market. It takes into account positions of need, of course, in addition to estimated salaries of what these players might want, what they should be worth when it comes to metrics, and what the Cards would be willing to offer. It delivers a blueprint so the Cards are prepared when free agency begins.
As the Cardinals proved last season, they have numbers in mind for all their offers. It doesn’t sound like Keim likes to do a ton of negotiating. Last season, for many free agents early in the process, the Cardinals told visiting players their offer could very well be off the table if they left without signing. That proved fruitful. The Cards didn’t sign everyone they went after last season, but that’s where the board helps.
“It will help us move on to the next guy if a guy decides to drag his feet or to not take the deal,” Keim said.
A lot can still change until March 11, because of the Cards’ own free agents that may or may not re-sign. The board, though, will be a crucial part of the process going forward.
Tags: Anthony Collins, Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe, free agency, Jared Veldheer, Rashad Johnson, Steve Keim
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As the Cardinals head toward the draft — a week later, May 8-10 this year — there will be a lot of talk about what positions will be targeted. There will be discussion about offensive tackles, defensive linemen, pass rushers, tight ends and defensive backs. But one thing that can’t be dismissed is the quest for a speed receiver.
The Cardinals can’t overlook the position anyway, given the impending free agent status of Andre Roberts (who likely will want to look what’s available on the open market since he’s destined to stay behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd) and the ongoing desire to have someone be able to run down the field and take the top off the defense. It was a constant quest last season. The Cards took a draft risk on Ryan Swope, and that didn’t work. Robert Gill was a track guy who they hoped would work out. Later, it was Brittan Golden and Teddy Williams.
According to profootballfocus.com, quarterback Carson Palmer threw 74 passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air last season. He completed only 23 of them, and while longer passes will inevitably have a lower completion percentage, coach Bruce Arians does want to get more production out of those six deep shots a game he’d like to take. The Cards didn’t take as many as that as the season went along, in part because there was an understanding the protection wasn’t always good enough for such long plays and in part because the was a search for the right target. Floyd and Fitz can do the jump ball thing, but to be able to just tell a guy to go long and watch him speed by in one-on-one coverage would be ideal.
Where that guy will come from isn’t set in stone. Will the Cardinals draft one? I wouldn’t be surprised. But Steve Keim will comb other options too. Williams and Golden are still around and in the mix (although they have to stay healthy.) It’s an Arians want, and an Arians need, and that isn’t going to change until the Cards find their answer.
Tags: Andre Roberts, Brittan Golden, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, draft, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Robert Gill, Ryan Swope, Steve Keim, Teddy Williams
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The Seahawks’ defense is being lauded today and rightfully so for their throttling of the Broncos’ record-setting offense in the Super Bowl. There are a bunch of breakdowns out there comparing Seattle’s defensive year to those of the best ever, and the Seahawks deserve to be in that conversation with teams like the 2000 Ravens and the 1985 Bears (I’d think some of those Steel Curtain teams should be in the discussion too, but I digress.)
Defense doesn’t necessarily win championships — I saw a stat that said the team with the higher-ranked defense actually has lost six of the last eight Super Bowls — but it certainly doesn’t hurt. But I believe pressure can help win a title, and that’s certainly what the Seahawks did to Peyton Manning and why the Cardinals had defensive success this season.
Profootballfocus.com charted that the Seahawks blitzed Manning on only six of 51 dropbacks in the Super Bowl, yet were in his face all game. That’s the kind of pressure the Giants put on Tom Brady in the last Super Bowl played in Arizona, the one in which New York placed the stunning upset on the previously undefeated Patriots. When you can pressure with four, everything changes.
The Cardinals had a lot of pressure success in part because defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was a genius with mixing up attack plans on the quarterback, and there was a lot of blitzing involved in that. They also benefited when linebacker John Abraham played like the John Abraham who had spent a career getting double-digit sacks every season. That kind of rusher is important. And going forward, it’s one of the reasons General Manager Steve Keim will lean toward not only the offensive but the defensive line in terms of trying to make the most improvement. It’s great to have one of the best cornerbacks in the game in Patrick Peterson, but without pressure, it doesn’t mean much. The same goes for Seattle’s Richard Sherman and the rest of that defensive backfield — they can afford to be aggressive, because they know the pressure will be coming sooner rather than later.
Tags: John Abraham, Patrick Peterson, Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman, Seahawks, Steve Keim, Super Bowl, Todd Bowles
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Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said Thursday he is one of those who is in favor of the NFL expanding the playoffs, although he isn’t willing to give 100 percent backing yet.
“I am in favor conceptually of expanding the playoffs,” Bidwill said during an interview on Arizona Sports 98.7. “The question of how and where and all that stuff, I don’t want to get ahead of seeing the analysis. I want to make sure we look at the data and listen to the debate. I want to see and hear what is best for the game. But I think we should have an expanded playoffs, and not just because it was us that didn’t get in this year. Because it is the right thing for the game.”
The Cardinals, who went 10-6, would have been the seventh NFC team in the postseason (six make it to the playoffs now). If the postseason is grown, adding one team per conference is the most likely change.
– Bidwill, talking about the Super Bowl coming back to Arizona in a year and the plan to bring future Super Bowls to the Valley:
“We are all, the Cardinals included, are giving to make sure we get this. From the corporate world, the government side, the public sector side, so we can continue to work hard and compete to be in these (Super Bowl) rotations. It’s a $500 million economic impact. It is invaluable from a tourism standpoint and everything else. We will continue to go after big games. We are a finalist for the Final Four, we’ve got the (college football) championship game for 2016. We as a community and a state will continue to do that.”
– Bidwill, addressing the many free agents of the Cardinals and other offseason issues, like Larry Fitzgerald’s bulky contract:
“It’s a lot of planning and working things out and there might be a person or two that we don’t see eye to eye on the number and there are negotiations,” Bidwill said. “But this is like this every year and people get fired up about it … but I think everything will work itself out. I really feel confident about that. We will build a better team and have a lot of those (free agents) back, restructure some deals and do what is in the best interests of the team.”
(Bidwill told Kent Somers early talks with Fitzgerald’s agents have already begun.)
As for the free agent process for other team’s players, “I’ll let Steve (Keim) and Bruce (Arians) get into the particulars,” Bidwill said. “There are going to be some great free agents out there and we plan to be aggressive in a few areas and then plan to do what we do best, which is draft.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Bidwill, Steve Keim
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His rehab will be lengthy. Tyrann Mathieu knew that from the start. But Mathieu also has been good enough to let our cameras in and record that journey, in an occasional series titled “Tenacious” that will debut next week on azcardinals.com.
Mathieu is doing well in these early stages. I happened to walk in with him earlier this week and “walk” is the key term. The last time I had seen him he climbed out of a SUV and worked hard to balance himself before pulling the crutches from the car. Now, Mathieu can walk, albeit with a slight limp. He’s far from the finish line, but every race has a starting point, right? General Manager Steve Keim already professed his belief in a rapid Honey Badger recovery. I know that’s what Mathieu is counting on, and while there is no way to predict exactly how the rehab will go, well, I guess — with “Tenacious” — we can watch exactly how it all plays out. Up close and personal.
Tags: Steve Keim, Tyrann Mathieu
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Every time General Manager Steve Keim talks about his roster, he talks about looking to improve everywhere. That’s always the default. While the Cardinals probably need, say, offensive linemen or tight ends more than, running backs, you don’t turn down chances to upgrade your team at any position. (As for the latest talk-radio conversation about quarterback, I feel confident that a) Carson Palmer is going to be the starter in 2014 and b) if Keim has a QB sitting on the board in the draft that he really, really likes — whenever that is — the Cardinals will likely take him.)
All that said, there are spots that need addressing just for the sheer numbers. I’ve already posted this once, but below is a link to a roster breakdown done right after the season. It has changed a bit — punter Dave Zastudil has re-signed by now — but the rest of the contract situations remain the same. Keim has a little more than six weeks before contracts officially expire. In terms of strictly numbers, here are how impending free agency impacts the positions (not including all the futures deals/low-end free agents that have signed):
– QB: Cards are fine with all three guys under contract. You’d expect a fourth camp arm to sign if one isn’t drafted.
– RB: Rashard Mendenhall is unrestricted and plays a big role, although if the Cards rode Andre Ellington/Stepfan Taylor in 2014, no one would be surprised.
– WR: Assuming the Cards can get comfortable (if they aren’t already) with Fitz’s contract, the position is probably OK. They need to add someone if Andre Roberts leaves as a free agent, but they can ride with Floyd/Fitz as a top two.
– TE: A major question. Only Rob Housler is under contract for next season. This has got to be a spot where the Cards draft, right?
– OL: Upgrades are necessary and will happen, but as of now, only Eric Winston is a free agent of guys who played at all.
– DL: Need depth here. Do you bring Frostee Rucker back? And that rehab needed for Alameda Ta’amu’s ACL tear hurts the team as much as Ta’amu.
– LB: It’s hard not to notice two starters in Karlos Dansby and Matt Shaughnessy who could potentially walk away.
– DB: The Cards could probably use another young safety, although they may be in good shape if Tony Jefferson can step forward. But what about cornerback, with Tyrann Mathieu coming back from injury and Javier Arenas/Antoine Cason/Bryan McCann scheduled to be free agents. Depth is needed there. It’ll be interesting to see if Justin Bethel ends up playing a bigger defensive role.
– Specialists: Zastudil is back. We’ll see what the Cardinals do at kicker and impending FA Jay Feely.
Tags: Alameda Ta'amu, Andre Ellington, Andre Roberts, Antoine Cason, Bryan McCann, Carson Palmer, Dave Zastudil, Eric Winston, Frostee Rucker, Javier Arenas, Jay Feely, Karlos Dansby, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Shaughnessy, Rashard Mendenhall, Rob Housler, Roster, Stepfan Taylor, Steve Keim, Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu
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Terry McDonough comes from a family with an incredibly strong background: His father, Will McDonough, was a legendary writer for the Boston Globe and was one of the first newspaper guys to transition into TV work when he would report on the NFL on NBC back in the early 1980s. Terry’s brother, Sean, is a play-by-play announcer for the Boston Red Sox and ESPN. His brother Ryan is in town as general manager of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. You don’t get into those jobs, usually, without a strong personality.
McDonough has that. Cardinals general manager Steve Keim used to say that one of the reasons he liked having Jason Licht with him in the front office was that Licht would battle him if he believed in something strongly enough. McDonough, who said Thursday that he won’t be afraid to tell Keim the truth “based on how I see it,” seems to be a natural replacement as VP of player personnel now that Licht is the Buccaneers’ GM.
It helps to have someone in-house to turn to when there is a vacancy. McDonough had a pretty loaded résumé when he was hired as a regional scout last year. The fact Licht seemed destined to leave sooner rather than later for a GM job could’ve played a role. Now, the Cards should be able to transition fairly easily as the draft process ramps up. And there usually is nothing that causes death to an NFL team’s path than an inability to tell the higher-ups a differing opinion, so McDonough’s willingness to speak up will be important.
McDonough joked Thursday he might fight Keim, but it would only be verbally. Maybe. But Will McDonough, while an excellent journalist, is almost as famous in NFL circles for punching Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn in a locker room once upon a time. You never know what might stir from that DNA.
Tags: Jason Licht, Steve Keim, Terry McDonough
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Consider this a public service announcement: The boys downstairs in the broadcast department are putting together a cool retrospective on the 2013 season, the first years of General Manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians, and where the Cards stand in the competitive NFC West. That hour-long show, part of the “Season In Focus” series, will air Jan. 25 at 10:35 p.m. on ABC-15.
And yes, for those of you out of town, the segments on the show will be posted on azcardinals.com.
Tags: Bruce Arians, Steve Keim
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There will be change for the Cardinals this offseason in the front office. It turns out Jason Licht, vice president of player personnel and right-hand man to General Manager Steve Keim, will be named to the vacant GM job in Tampa Bay, according to Jay Glazer (and now, many national other reporters as well.) It’s a blow to the Cards because Keim and Licht are close. Keim worked hard to bring Licht back from the Patriots after Licht’s first stint in Arizona for the 2008 season. But Licht’s ambition was always to be a GM — he was a finalist for the Bears job in 2012 — and Keim wanted that for Licht as well.
UPDATE: The Cardinals have addressed the move.
“Jason did a tremendous job in two different stints with the Cardinals and we knew it was only a matter of time before he would become a GM,” team president Michael Bidwill said. “We know that he will do a great job in Tampa. At the same time Steve (Keim) has developed a very deep bench in our personnel department to prepare for this event and will continue to make that area a strength of the organization.”
Said Keim, “Anyone that knows Jason recognizes not only what an outstanding evaluator he is but also a high-quality person. His reputation is well-deserved and speaks for itself. There’s no doubt his talent and experience will be a tremendous asset for the Buccaneers and all of us here wish him nothing but the best.”
The Buccaneers have already hired a new coach in Lovie Smith, and there was a lot of talk about the new GM having little true power because it would be wielded by Smith. But Glazer was the latest to report the new GM will indeed control the draft and other personnel decisions. For an up-and-comer like Licht, there would have been no reason to settle for a toothless GM job. Adam Schefter reported Licht will sign a four-year contract.
What does this mean for Keim (below left, with Licht in the middle and scout Terry McDonough)? The Cardinals will have to fill that void. I’m sure, since Licht was also interviewing for the Dolphins GM job, that Keim is prepared for a Licht departure. I don’t know if they would go outside the organization or promote from within. But these are the things you deal with when you hire good people.
Tags: Buccaneers, Jason Licht, Michael Bidwill, Steve Keim, Terry McDonough
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