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Unknowns, Tough Decisions Face Steve Keim This Offseason

Cardinals GM plans to build roster in season with salary cap drop

Cardinals GM Steve Keim (right) fistbumps VP of pro personnel Adrian Wilson before a home game in 2020.
Cardinals GM Steve Keim (right) fistbumps VP of pro personnel Adrian Wilson before a home game in 2020.

The subject was originally about the impending free-agent status of Patrick Peterson, and the potential of the cornerback resigning with the Cardinals after 10 seasons.

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim didn't have a direct answer – "There are just a lot of factors that are still unknown," he said – before morphing into the big picture facing not only the Cards but the entire NFL when it comes to free agency with the pandemic forcing a precipitous drop in the salary cap.

The Cardinals have 28 unrestricted free agents-to-be, with Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Kenyan Drake and Haason Reddick among them.

"There are so many moving parts right now," Keim said during an appearance on the "Doug and Wolf" show on 98.7, Arizona's Sports Station. "In some of these situations, and I am not speaking toward Pat, there are tough decisions that have to be made.

"In 2013, when I became general manager, the first thing I did was release Adrian Wilson. You know how close and near and dear he is to my heart. It comes with the territory to make tough decisions."

One tough decision Keim has already made, despite speculation to the contrary: pass rusher Chandler Jones, heading into the final year of his contract, isn't going anywhere despite currently owning a $20.8 million cap hit and a potential $15M savings if he were to be released. Asked if he will release Jones, Keim was blunt. "I'll reject that," he said.

Keim would not say whether he has had contract extension talks with Jones, however, a move that would allow the Cardinals to lower Jones' cap hit.

While there wasn't a lot of concrete news to come out of the conversation, Keim addressed a number of topics:

  • Asked about the potential of chasing free agent defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who to this point has been linked to the Packers, Steelers and Browns: "If there's an opportunity that makes sense from the football side and the business side, we'll certainly take a swing," Keim said. Noting that wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins "recruited" Watt with an Instagram post showing Watt in a Cardinals uniform, Keim said "it's fun to see your players involved."
  • Keim said he and Peterson have talked, but there are details the team and Peterson still need for a real conversation about any potential Peterson deal. "Over the next couple of weeks I think we'll know a lot more, once we get a hard cap from the league and understand where the market is," Keim said. (He echoed the same thing about Drake.)
  • Like owner Michael Bidwill, Keim had no insight over the future of Fitzgerald. "I have not talked to him about his plans. Larry is a guy we have a tremendous amount of respect for and certainly want to give him the space he deserves to make the right decision."
  • The franchise tag remains possible for Reddick, Keim said. "We'll evaluate everything," Keim said. (Although as it stands now, the tag for Reddick would eat up all and then some of the Cards' projected cap space.)
  • While some have suggested guard Justin Pugh as a potential cap casualty, given that it could save $7M in space, Keim noted that "I think Justin Pugh had his best year as a Cardinal." He also thought tackle D.J. Humphries played at a Pro Bowl level.
  • Keim chuckled when asked about Kyler Murray's comments this offseason about playing both football and Major League baseball. "I have a lot of confidence in the fact Kyler is going to continue to concentrate on football," Keim said. "He's a guy when you talk to him about this game, he's a football junkie. He has texted me a number of times about different prospects, whether it is free agents or college players."
  • Murray did gain some attention when he retweeted a note about how NFL teams needed to focus on offensive linemen in early rounds to reach a Super Bowl. "He hasn't said it to me directly, but I guess that's a subliminal (message)," Keim said. "I love when our players have input because it means they care. I will always pay attention to those things and do what's right, in my opinion, is best for the organization."

Keim said he wasn't sure what the free-agent market was going to look like given the cap drop, but one-year deals could be the norm. And when asked if this was a "make or break" year for coach Kliff Kingsbury, Keim said expectations was a better word.

"For all of us, it's expectations," Keim said. "I don't know (about) the word make or break. We approach every year the same. The greatest thing I have seen from Kliff and the thing I have tried to do, is look back, self-evaluate, see areas where you can improve, and that's where you get your growth. I think Kliff has done a fantastic job this offseason, he and I have sat down multiple times and talked about what went wrong, ways we can fix it and possible solutions moving forward."

Keim did say the Cardinals needed better attention to detail and when noting the Cards led the league in penalties said "that won't happen again."

"I was really disappointed (in 2020)," Keim said. "I thought we were a playoff team as well. We did not meet expectations, and I truly apologize to the Red Sea for that."

Images of the defense from throughout the 2020 season.

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