Steve Keim steps away from duties as Arizona Cardinals GM
Jan 9, 2023, 10:17 AM
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Steve Keim era as general manager in Arizona has ended.
The Cardinals will be looking for a new general manager after a decade-long run for Keim in his current position, the team confirmed on Monday. Arizona’s statement says that Keim “decided to step away from his position in order to focus on his health.”
Keim went on a health-related leave of absence on Dec. 14 and was replaced on an interim basis by vice president of player personnel Quentin Harris and vice president of pro personnel Adrian Wilson.
The decision comes about 10 months after Keim signed a contract extension with the team that ran through 2027, a matching extension with head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was reportedly fired on Monday.
It comes after the team went 4-13 in a 2022 season preceded by a public and messy contract negotiation with quarterback Kyler Murray, and one that included the dismissal of two position coaches due to alleged off-the-field incidents.
Arizona has not won a playoff game since 2015 and after that NFC Championship Game run made the playoffs just once, resulting in a 34-11 loss last January in the Wild Card round to the Los Angeles Rams.
After a 10-2 start to 2021, the Cardinals have since gone 5-18, finishing 1-5 last regular season before that negative momentum continued into this campaign.
Keim worked his way up to the team’s head executive position in 2013 after beginning his tenure with the franchise in 1999 as a scout. He became director of college scouting in 2006, director of player personnel in 2008 and VP of player personnel in 2012 before his promotion to GM.
Upon taking the general manager job in 2013, he hired head coach Bruce Arians and also traded for QB Carson Palmer in April 2013, signing the quarterback to a contract extension the following November. Arians and Palmer led the Cardinals to a 49-30-1 regular season record and two playoff appearances over five years.
Trouble followed for the Cardinals since Palmer’s NFL career ended in 2017.
Keim was suspended for five weeks and fined $200,000 prior to the start of the 2018 regular season after he pleaded guilty to extreme DUI following a July 4 arrest. Then came the 3-13 year in 2018 under Arians’ successor, Steve Wilks.
After Arizona finished with the worst record in the NFL, churning through two offensive coordinators in the process, Wilks and almost all of his staff were fired. The Cardinals replaced the head coach with Kingsbury, a controversial hire considering he had no NFL coaching experience and came off a six-year tenure as Texas Tech’s head coach that ended with a 35-40 record.
With the first overall pick in the 2019 draft, Keim opted to pair Kingsbury with Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray, and that decision forced the GM to trade away second-year QB Josh Rosen — just one season after Arizona traded up five spots to select Rosen 10th in the 2018 draft.
Rosen joined a long list of Keim’s draft picks that didn’t become long-term contributors in the desert.
In his time as GM, Keim used his first-round picks to select G Jonathan Cooper (2013), S Deone Bucannon (2014), LT D.J. Humphries (2015), DT Robert Nkemdiche (2016), LB Haason Reddick (2017), Rosen (2018), Murray (2019), LB Isaiah Simmons (2020) and LB Zaven Collins (2021).
Cooper struggled to remain healthy in Arizona and before his fourth season when he was included in a trade with the New England Patriots to acquire pass-rusher Chandler Jones. Since then, Jones, who completed his first year with the Las Vegas Raiders, was extended.
Bucannon succeeded early on as a safety-turned-linebacker but fizzled by the time his rookie deal was up.
Humphries got off to a poor start in essentially a redshirt rookie season, but he became a solid starting left tackle down the road and has been a staple before getting hurt this year.
Nkemdiche’s inconsistencies on and off the field led to the Cardinals releasing him before 2019 began, and Reddick struggled to find a role for three years before excelling on the edge in Year 4. He left for the Carolina Panthers in free agency after his rookie contract ended and has hit double-digit sacks in each of the last three years: one with Arizona, another with Carolina and this year with Philadelphia.
Rosen became a sunk cost that netted 2019 second-round pick wide receiver Andy Isabella and a future pick, which was later traded for running back Kenyan Drake. Isabella never could crack the Cardinals’ starting unit — not even this year with DeAndre Hopkins suspended and others injured — and Drake left in free agency after a year and a half.
Keim, however, had his fair share of successes.
He took a risk that panned out in drafting Tyrann Mathieu in the third round of the 2013 draft despite the safety’s off-the-field issues. The third round served Keim well in 2014 (receiver John Brown and defensive end Kareem Martin) and 2015 (running back David Johnson).
Safety Budda Baker (second round, 2017), receiver Christian Kirk (second round, 2018), cornerback Byron Murphy (second round, 2019) and RB Chase Edmonds (fourth round, 2018) all have done enough to consider them successful picks.
Selecting safety Jalen Thompson in the 2019 supplemental draft was a victory as well.
Keim’s signings of aging vets on relatively valuable contracts also peppered the successful moves by the GM: LB John Abraham, RB Chris Johnson, DE Dwight Freeney, LG Mike Iupati, DE Frostee Rucker, CB Jerraud Powers, LB Karlos Dansby, LT Jared Veldheer were among his best veteran additions.
He was very aggressive during the last two offseasons to build contenders for 2020 and 2021.
Trading for Hopkins proved to be a no-brainer. James Conner was another high-quality value signing before 2021 before he inked a more controversial deal in 2022.
Acquiring defensive end J.J. Watt and center Rodney Hudson were impactful moves that could have been more so if not for injuries.
Keim also traded for veteran tight Zach Ertz last year, which paid dividends as he was Arizona’s leading receiver from his debut-on before suffering a season-ending knee injury this year.
However, those rosters still had holes — depth problems especially — and failed to get out of the Wild Card round with key acquisitions, including Hopkins last year, finding themselves injured.
Of course, much of that was out of Keim’s control. So were many of the distractions that came with the on-field struggles of this year’s team.
Off-field incidents in this league year included running backs coach James Saxon being arrested and pleading guilty to domestic battery. He left the team after initially being put on administrative leave.
Offensive line coach and run game coordinator Sean Kugler was sent home from the team’s trip to Mexico City after he allegedly groped a woman and fired Nov. 21. He and his lawyers have disputed the charge, calling it a “miscommunication” or “mistaken identity,” while the Cardinals said in a statement the facts backed up the reasoning for firing him.
Players have been involved in distractions as well. While Murray’s agent led him into his riff with the franchise before signing a franchise-record contract extension, that was followed by a report of a “homework clause” being included in the 2019 first overall draft pick’s deal, essentially saying he had to study film for four or more hours per week.
The Cardinals wiped that out of the contract, wanting to avoid distractions. However, Murray went on to set career-worst marks in QBR and passer ratings in his fourth year.
It didn’t help he didn’t have a healthy receiving group or offensive line. Hopkins was suspended for six games due to a substance violation, while receiver Hollywood Brown, Murray’s college teammate at Oklahoma, began his year by being arrested for criminal speeding in the preseason.
The general manager’s job security eventually unraveled over the post-Arians era with too many missed draft picks, failed veteran signings and overall roster churning without enough injection of young developmental players or in-their-prime veterans.
But Keim’s GM tenure will also be known for one of the most memorable runs in franchise history — certainly, the second-most memorable season of Cardinals football since the franchise arrived from St. Louis in 1988.