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Keim: WR Crabtree still has it, Cards continue search for upgrades

Wide Receiver Michael Crabtree #15 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled after a catch by cornerback Rashaan Melvin #22 of the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 25, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Free agent receiver Michael Crabtree will play for his third team in three years when he suits up for the Arizona Cardinals.

He’ll turn 32 years old on Sept. 14.

His apparently tepid free agency might be evidence that teams weren’t throwing a lot of money at the wideout entering his 11th NFL season. Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, however, believes Crabtree still can contribute in a big way.

That’s why the Cardinals eventually offered him a one-year deal with a base salary of $3.25 million that with incentives can add another $2.25 million, according to NBC Sports’ Mike Florio.

“Michael’s a guy that’s we’ve monitored all the way back to free agency,” Keim told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “There’s a number of reasons why players remain on the market. We brought him in for a workout, liked what we saw. There’s no doubt in my mind that he still has the necessary quickness and movement skills that it takes to play the position.

“He’s always had the strong hands and the ability to compete,” the GM added Friday. “(He) can play the X position, can play Z, has played in some similar offenses in the past.”

Crabtree’s recent production supports Keim’s evaluation.

Just three years ago, in 2016 with the Oakland Raiders, the receiver recorded his second 1,000-yard campaign of his career. Since, he’s topped 600 yards in each of the last two years.

Last season’s numbers could’ve been bigger had the Baltimore Ravens not gone away from the arm of Joe Flacco in favor of rookie Lamar Jackson, who topped 200 passing yards just once in the final seven games of the year.

Injury-wise, Crabtree doesn’t have much of a recent history.

He missed two regular season games in 2017 but has appeared in 16 outings in four of the last five years.

“He’s always been extremely productive,” Keim said. “There’s no doubt that he’s going to catch a lot of balls. He’s never been a blazing fast type of receiver, but he’s extremely crafty as a route-runner, understands how to set up routes, understands spacing and concepts.

“And then the one thing he does is he gets in and out of breaks really well. He’s very sudden for a big man and he attacks the football well.”

Hector adds depth

The Cardinals feel good about their safety depth.

D.J. Swearinger and Budda Baker are expected to be one of few defensive units with strength across the board entering the season, and that is why Arizona felt backup safety Rudy Ford was expendable.

Ford was traded Thursday to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for defensive tackle Bruce Hector, who could push for a rotation spot along the interior of the defensive line.

Hector, a second-year pro, recorded two tackles in 82 snaps for the Eagles last season.

“We liked him coming out (of South Florida),” Keim said of the 296-pound lineman. “He’s a big, physical presence that can play any of those inside positions, like anywhere from the zero nose to the wide 3-technique. He’s physical at the point of attack, he’s got quickness for a big man. He’s shown the ability to rush the passer from an interior position.”

Like the trade for Hector, the Cardinals will continue to bolster depthless positions via trade opportunities or more likely use their first claim on the waiver wire to find potential rotation players when rosters across the NFL are cut to 53 players on the afternoon of Aug. 31.

Butler’s status in limbo

Just more than a week remains before 53-man roster cutdowns, and it feels like the Cardinals will use all or much of that time to determine how long rookie receiver Hakeem Butler’s avulsion fracture in his hand — an avulsion fracture is when a ligament or tendon pulls off a piece of bone — will keep him sidelined.

Putting Butler on injured reserve would keep the Cardinals from developing the fourth-round pick, who appeared unlikely to help Arizona off the bat this year.

“It’s (about) how long is the injury going to last,” Keim said. “And while the injury is in effect, really the biggest thing we can do is make sure that he’s staying dialed in to what we’re doing mentally, and he’s developing his body with our strength coach and our trainers and getting the most out of the season, whatever portion of the season he’s going to miss.”

Extra points

— Keim on what he wants to see from quarterback Kyler Murray in the third preseason game Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings:

“To be able to operate the offense at a high level. I think it’s the poise in the pocket, the command of the huddle, the ability to find secondary and third options in the passing game. I really would prefer that he not run a lot but if the opportunity presents itself, we know he has the wheels to do it.”

— Before signing Crabtree, Keim and the Cardinals released receiver Kevin White, whose career has been derailed by serious injuries.

“There’s a soft spot in my heart because I was a guy … that was a free agent, had very minimal talent, but my heart and my passion was in the game,” Keim said. “When you have to tell somebody that their dream is over — at least their dream is over with your organization — it’s a hard thing to do. It’s not a lot of fun to do that but you also want to be able to encourage them and let them know that if this is their passion in life, chase it, because the opportunity may present itself somewhere else.”

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