Keim’s absence comes as Cardinals talk complicated Johnson extension

Jul 18, 2018, 10:28 AM | Updated: 11:30 am
(AP photos)...
(AP photos)
(AP photos)

The five-week suspension of Cardinals general manager Steve Keim following his guilty plea for DUI will keep him away from the team beyond Arizona’s second of four preseason games.

Injuries, roster shuffling and even trade offers could push final decisions to president Michael Bidwill and vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough in the meantime. But in regards to the Cardinals’ future, no front office maneuvers over the next month-plus should be as important as managing the negotiation of running back David Johnson’s contract extension.

Johnson, who in 2018 will make $1.88 million in the final year of his rookie deal, held out of mandatory mini-camp in June as his representatives and the Cardinals failed to reach an extension.

But Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio doesn’t believe Keim’s absence will hinder Johnson and the team during the negotiation process.

“It’s been nearly two weeks since Steve Keim’s arrest,” Florio told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “They’ve had opportunities over the last couple of weeks to put a plan in place for how a negotiation will go with David Johnson.

“Five weeks from now, that still doesn’t take us to the start of the regular season so there’d still be an opportunity when Keim comes back to try to get it done before Week 1.”

The context of the negotiation, however, remains complicated.

Johnson posted 1,239 yards rushing and 879 receiving yards in 2016, making him one of the most revered running backs in the NFL before a wrist injury suffered in Week 1 ended his 2017 season.

Adding to the hurdles in the negotiation is an evolving running back market.

On Monday, the deadline passed for Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell to reach a contract agreement with his team, which franchise tagged him for the second straight year. A deal there would have helped set the market for other running backs like Johnson, who comes in the same mold as a threat on the ground and as a receiver.

“There’s such a vast difference as far as the running back position,” said NFL insider John Clayton when he joined Doug & Wolf on Wednesday.  “The cap people have to try to settle things down. I think it’s tough because, I mean, what’s the number?”

Bell turned down offers from Pittsburgh south of the $14.5 million per year he was seeking, and Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman represents the next-highest paid player at $8.3 million per season.

Freeman’s deal appears to be a more realistic expectation for Johnson’s contract.

“The number is closer to the Freeman number than it is what Bell turned down,” Clayton said. “Can Johnson be satisfied with $9, maybe $10 million?”

That remains to be seen.

As Arizona attempts to resolve the negotiation with their starting running back, the staff will have more on its plate with Keim serving his suspension.

That might present an opportunity for McDonough, who was among the finalists for the San Francisco 49ers’ general manager opening in 2017.

“He’s going to be the name attached to any moves,” Florio said. “Even if it is something that Steve Keim meticulously planned out ahead of time, McDonough’s the one who’s finalizing it. If they make what are perceived as good moves and people react well to it, then it is something that boosts his potential consideration for jobs when the next cycle around.

“Owners around the league, they are affected by that. They’re influenced by that.”

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