General Manager Steve Keim shares a laugh with kicker Jay Feely at a recent practice.
When Steve Keim took over in January, he knew exactly how he wanted his first offseason to play out as general manager of the Arizona Cardinals.
That didn't mean he'd simply go down a laundry list of free agents to sign. But the philosophy would be set. His staff would attack acquisitions not only with raw scouting but analytics. He would rehab the salary cap situation. He would be aggressive in bringing in players, but patient with free agents who wanted too much.
Once in a while, he'd make a move that wasn't popular with the fan base but true to his plan and go from there.
"The one thing you have to do in this position is, so to speak, avoid the noise," Keim said. "You have to have strong conviction."
With the official signing of first-round pick Jonathan Cooper Monday morning, Keim's job for his first offseason – while not
complete – has a solid base. He overhauled the salary cap, he managed to acquire a handful of key players on short-term deals, allowing the Cardinals to judge on their own terms if they want to keep some of them long-term. He traded for a quarterback, and Carson Palmer cost him relatively little.
Then, as camp was about to get underway, Keim struck again, grabbing veteran tackle Eric Winston and veteran pass rusher John Abraham, once again turning heads not only around the league but also in his own locker room.
"I think it sends a message we are trying to win right now," veteran defensive end Calais Campbell said. "We're not waiting to rebuild. This is a year we feel we can really be successful. I know a lot of people don't believe that, but we do."
Keim has been around the organization a long time, and the team wasn't always proactive signing new players even when it seemed crucial. The culture has slowly morphed as the years have gone on, and Keim's vision of how the team should be run and what needed to change clearly impressed Team President Michael Bidwill before Keim's promotion.
Keim made difficult choices like cutting veteran safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes. He stayed patient in searching for a quarterback until Palmer came available. He set his parameters on certain free agents – taking a new tack and essentially giving most of them take-it-on-your-visit-or-leave-it offers – and waited out others.
Getting a veteran pass rusher was always on the radar for instance, and the current climate for veteran free agents in the league didn't hurt. A guy like Dwight Freeney, who worked with Bruce Arians in Indianapolis, might have been a target had he not been snapped up earlier. But Abraham was still looking for a job, and he was the right fit. Winston, help for a maligned offensive line, was the same concept.
"We always had the reputation of not going out and getting certain guys in free agency or whatever," veteran defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "This division, you've got to go out and get talent to compete Because everybody is trying to get weapons to help us in this division.
"You can't win the division unless you beat the teams in the division and you can't do that unless you have the materials. I applaud Steve Keim and Mr. Bidwill for doing that. We are making it tough for other teams now."
As Palmer said after the last-minute Winston and Abraham signings, "It's unheard of."
"It's not like we are getting them the third preseason game where they are getting in shape," Palmer added. "They (were) here the first day of camp. Looking at (the website) Pro Football Talk, I thought, 'really?' when I saw the post about Winston talking to the Cardinals. I thought that'd be great. Then I hear we got him. Shocked, excited, happy. That's when you know your organization is trying to win football games now."
It isn't over. Keim shakes his head at the notion that, with Cooper's signing, there is time to take a breath. It's now when the Cardinals have to be the most aggressive, he said. That includes re-visiting early in the season all of the players with contracts set to expire after the season to see who should be extended.
He also said he and vice president of player personnel Jason Licht are constantly checking the waiver wire too. There will be more moves.
"It's never ending," Keim said. "But the main thing is to stay aggressive. Any time we feel we can make an acquisition we feel can help the football team, we will take a shot at it."