General Manager Steve Keim (left) talks with Head Coach Bruce Arians during a recent meeting in the Cardinals' draft room.
Steve Keim's presence in the Cardinals' draft room is nothing new, nor is his influence.
As he rose through the ranks of the team's front office, his scouting background made him an invaluable force in the picks that came every April. There is a difference now, though. Keim was named general manager in January. There are multiple perspectives that go into scouting players, building the draft board and eventually helping make the picks, but there is just one man on whom the ultimate responsibility lies.
"Now I have an opportunity to put my own stamp on the process, to sit in the big boy seat," Keim said. "It's my job, it's my decision. At the end of the day, that's what you ask for in this business. As a competitor, you wouldn't want it any other way."
Keim has talked about the unique nature of this offseason, of the Cardinals dissecting their roster by releasing multiple veterans in part to help clean up the salary cap going forward and then signing a host of free agents to build the roster.
That's all with an eye on the future, in a world where the Cardinals sign fewer free agents and lean on Keim's favorite time of year – the draft.
No one understands the hours that go into prepping for a draft better than Keim, who started as a scout before his multiple promotions. He
understands the process and embraces it.
"I always felt like, when I worked as a scout, I wasn't compensated for the job," Keim said. "I was compensated for being away from my family. Because the job part of it was my passion."
That carries over to his current post. His belief in his support staff – from vice president of player personnel Jason Licht to the scouts, all of whom Keim has handpicked over the years – is felt in the draft room as the group has met over the past weeks formulating the Cardinals' draft plan.
Licht said Keim's ability to inspire and motivate – and seemingly personalize it for each individual – impacts the process.
"He's tough but he's got a great sense of humor," Licht said. "He can loosen up the room but he can tighten up the ropes too."
Delegation has been a crucial step, especially for someone who has lived as a scout for so long. Licht is left to run many of the draft meetings as each – with Keim, Head Coach Bruce Arians, the scouting staff and selected coaches, depending on the position being discussed – plays out.
Heated debates come often – Licht estimates it sometimes happens with every other player – but eventually, a collective "Cardinal grade" is attached to each player. Ultimately, if there are any decisions that have to be made or a tie left to be broken, Keim does it.
"He's such a talented evaluator, he still knows – and it amazes me all the time," Licht said. "Steve can tell you about a player and I didn't even know he had time to watch the tape."
In his 15th season with the Cardinals, Keim still feels the exhilaration after the draft, even if he knows that eventually, some players will work better than others. Measuring a drafted player before three years is difficult to do realistically, Keim said.
"But we're no different than fans," Keim said. "Once players are drafted, you have expectations. Our expectations may be a little different than fans. But our goal is to make every one of our seven picks from the draft produce."
In an NFL world where even Keim joked that his first-round pick better play right away if the general manager wanted to keep his job, waiting isn't always feasible. Keim understands the expectations for the general manager as well.
"We've talked about the process," team President Michael Bidwill said. "Some of the preparation is different (under Keim) and I've noticed that. Speaking with him over the last several weeks, he certainly understands the weight is 100 percent on his shoulders as general manager. It's a different position when you have all the responsibility."