Steve Keim hears his critics, and after a 3-13 season, understands that perspective.
“I think it’s warranted,” the Cardinals’ general manager said. “These are jobs that come with a lot of expectations, and rightfully so.”
But now he and the Cardinals are trying to start fresh – again – with new head coach Kliff Kingsbury and a focus on rehabilitating the offense and turning 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen into a franchise quarterback. Starting fresh, however, doesn’t mean blocking out the past.
“The adversity and struggles you go through make you stronger, as long as you point in the right direction and use it as fuel and not as a negative crutch,” Keim said. “To me, you can take all the lessons as growth. Sometimes it’s just as important to learn what not to do as what to do.”
The moves the Cardinals have made in the short time since their season ended – and with the Super Bowl Sunday, the 2018 NFL season hasn’t even officially come to a completion – have already set in stone the big-picture direction the club wanted to go.
Offensively, the Cardinals hired Kingsbury and passing game coordinator Tom Clements to develop Rosen and create new life for the league’s 32nd-ranked offense. Defensively, former Broncos head coach Vance Joseph was brought in to move that side of the ball back to a high-pressure, man-to-man look – a notion that has already gotten stamps of approval from the best two players on defense, cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive end (and probably soon, linebacker) Chandler Jones.
The Cardinals have still not yet announced the balance of their coaching staff, with the group getting this week to get personal affairs in order before hunkering down for season prep starting next week. There is free agency and the draft for which to prepare, with the Cardinals holding the top pick in every round of the draft (and first place in waiver claims as well.)
Kingbury needs to help the offense, but Keim still needs to get the players to help in that process.
“It’s the old saying, ‘The x’s and o’s vs the jimmys and joes,’ ” Keim said. “The jimmys and joes are the most important. Coaches look a lot smarter when the jimmys and joes are a lot better. We have to get more playmakers offensively, there’s no doubt we have to get more physical up front, we have to protect the quarterback, we have to run the football with efficiency.
“We do have to put a lot of effort and emphasis on this roster.”
Defensively, Keim reiterated the Cardinals wanted to get back to the aggressive press-man coverage and blitz-happy pass rush that highlighted that unit during the team’s best recent seasons.
Offensively, while Kingsbury’s NFL scheme is yet to be seen, Keim said he feels like he has a good understanding of how his young coach will attack, using formations and different styles of players to create mismatches.
It isn’t so much the playcalls Keim anticipates being the difference-maker for Kingsbury, but the ability to craft for his particular players – specifically, Rosen.
“You put the quarterback in a position what he does well,” Keim said. “If it’s having the quarterback in the gun the majority of the time, then you put him in the gun. You’re not asking him to do things he’s not comfortable with. To me, the fact Kliff played that position and played (in the NFL) certainly puts him in a position where it is beneficial to Josh.”
Wide receiver will be a position the Cardinals consider carefully in the offseason, but bringing Larry Fitzgerald back for a 16th season was important, Keim said, for both play and leadership.
“I had to haggle with him over the contract and that is never fun when a player represents himself, but we had fun in the process,” Keim said with a smile. “(Team president) Michael (Bidwill) was the one who closed the deal. They’ve got a special relationship. I tell Michael all the time, I control 52 players on the roster and he controls one, because Larry has a tough time saying no to the boss.”
Keim reiterated last season still weighs on him. The only way that can be fixed is by the work to come.
“The one thing this organization has created is expectations, and 2018 certainly was way below our expectations,” Keim said.
Images of the Cardinals going airborne during the 2018 season