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Steve Keim Still Sees Free Agent Window After Watt Signing

GM says Cardinals hope to re-sign some of their own players soon

Cardinals GM Steve Keim (left) and owner Michael Bidwill before a home game in 2020.
Cardinals GM Steve Keim (left) and owner Michael Bidwill before a home game in 2020.

J.J. Watt figures to be the big free-agent signing of the offseason for the Cardinals, but that doesn't mean it will be their only signing.

General Manager Steve Keim said Wednesday that even with the significant Watt contract and the limited salary cap of 2021, "I don't think we're drastically limited" as free agency arrives in two weeks.

"That's why we structured the contract the way we did and the way we have done a number of other things financially," Keim said. "That's some of the benefits you have … about having a rookie quarterback on his first contract. We have a window in time where we can do some different things and be flexible.

"At the same time, we have to be smart with it and we have to look at the future moving forward and look at the next three years. I always take a different view than a lot of people do."

The Cards have 28 of their own unrestricted scheduled free agents (and three restricted free agents that played roles, including Dennis Gardeck.) Cornerback Patrick Peterson, linebacker Haason Reddick and running back Kenyan Drake top the list.

Keim wasn't getting into specifics of any of them, other than to say "there are a number of them we'd like to have back."

"Just doing the cost of business and the way things work, some of those players will be able to return," Keim added. "It depends on what the market is going to present."

Many of Watt's contract details (although interestingly, not his salary cap number for 2021) emerged on Twitter Wednesday, noting that Watt is set to receive $14.5 million this season total, a $12M signing bonus and has $20M guaranteed immediately, with another $3M in guarantees locking in a year from this month. He can earn another $13.5M in 2022 and has $3M of incentives.

Prior to Watt's contract, both and the NFLPA had the Cardinals with around $11M in cap space, based on a $180M cap. The NFL still has not set the 2021 salary cap, and there is a chance it could still grow by a few million dollars.

The Cardinals could clear some space by cutting veterans, but Keim said that isn't a foregone conclusion and that the front office is still talking through those possibilities. Before free agency begins, there are expected to be a lot of veterans released to the open market league-wide because of cap constrictions.

Keim said there will be a "number" of the Cards' own free agents the team will try and re-sign before free agency, but that there will be others that will want to test the market.

"We want these guys back here, but there is no doubt finances come into play," Keim said.

One free-agent-to-be is on his own timeline. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has not decided if he is going to play in 2021. Keim said he had nothing to report on Fitz's thought process, and the team doesn't have to have a decision by the start of free agency if Fitzgerald needs more time.

"Knowing him, he's just trying to make me sweat," Keim joked.

If Fitzgerald decides to play, there will be a spot for him. Who else might join Watt on the roster will be determined over the next few weeks, although having Watt in hand does adjust the Cardinals' overall plan.

"It really does put things into perspective in terms of your budget, where things are headed, how things are structured and the room you have moving forward," Keim said.