Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim talks with safety Tyrann Mathieu before a game.
No talk of windows resonates, because in the end, Steve Keim has every intention of the Cardinals competing for a postseason spot each year.
That doesn't mean the general manager is unaware of the team's circumstances as they build toward 2017.
The quarterback and top wide receiver both considered retirement, however briefly. The coach too is closer to the end of his career as well – he's more than once mentioned how he and the QB will ride off into the sunset together.
But as Keim and all the Cardinals' front office and coaches head to Indianapolis this week for the annual Scouting combine, with free agency waiting just on the other side, there is a thin line to be walked. Keim, not that much older than Carson Palmer, is nowhere near the end of his career. There is a short-term future to consider, but also
a long-term view. There is a need to push for a deep playoff run, the one the Cardinals expected to have in 2016, but a need to avoid doing so at the cost of 2018 and beyond.
Walking that tightrope "is kind of an instinct," Keim said. "It's so simplistic in my mind."
The biggest part comes this time of year, readjusting the roster with new contracts for both current Cardinals and those potentially to arrive as free agents. The former has brought with it difficult choices. Linebacker Chandler Jones already has a franchise tag. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell and safety Tony Jefferson are wanted back, but most believe both players will be among the top – if not the top – available players at their position in free agency.
Keim says with every player, he has that simple methodology.
"For example, do I feel like we can live without Tyrann Mathieu long-term?" Keim said. "If I think we can, then we can take a chance and move on from him. But if he is an essential piece to this puzzle, and is a key piece to this moving forward, then we have to do what we can to keep him."
Keim doesn't specifically talk about any free agents to be, including Campbell and Jefferson. But he notes that it
can be difficult to fight the emotional attachment a franchise has built with a player against the money a player might seek.
The salary cap is a big part of it – there is only so much to go around. Teams are savvy enough to make that work in a single year of course, but again, at what cost? When Keim took his post in 2013, one of his goals was to clear out the dead cap space the team had accrued. Now, the Cardinals usually have little dead cap money in a given season.
"You can't mortgage the future to the point where, when I look in the mirror saying to myself, 'Is this the right thing (financially) health-wise long-term for the organization?" Keim said. "Meaning, am I going to be sitting here in two years wishing we didn't make this deal because it came crashing down?'
"Now all of a sudden, the player isn't the player he once was and we have incurred a lot of dead money and it's affecting us moving forward for a long time. We just can't put ourselves in that predicament. As hard as some of these decisions are to make, you have to be true to yourself and to the organization, first and foremost."
It makes a difference. No one will argue the Cardinals are better off without, for example, Campbell, if he were to leave. This is exactly the time of year that underscores the importance of the draft – not only because the top players are working out in Indy, but also because they are needed to replace high-priced free agents that leave.
"You have to develop your own players, you have to keep some guys on lower salaries, you have to pay your core players," Keim said. "And you know what, quite frankly, we have to do a better job. I'm proud of a lot of our draft picks, but I can also tell you where we have made mistakes. That's what the great challenge is."
Images of the Cardinals with smiles on their faces during the season