DAN BICKLEY

Doubts about GM Steve Keim continue as Cardinals drop 5 in a row

Dec 3, 2019, 6:21 PM
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim talks to the media during a press conference introduci...
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim talks to the media during a press conference introducing the new head coach Kliff Kingsbury at the Arizona Cardinals Training Facility on January 9, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Our morale doesn’t need any more shallow victories. We need the real stuff.

We need a football team that is moving forward, not backward. A team that doesn’t moonwalk out of a bye week, like the Cardinals did against the Rams on Sunday, a 27-point loss that revealed the fragile condition of our NFL team and our sporting psyche.

We need a general manager who drafts as well as he talks. We don’t have that guy in Arizona. Steve Keim’s draft record since 2015 ranks among the worst prolonged slumps in the history of his profession. The rising tide of desperation has led to even more daffy blunders, like needing an impact wide receiver and choosing Andy Isabella over D.K. Metcalf.

That particular gaffe is just one of many, but it explains a lot. Because Keim chose the guy who doesn’t look the part over the guy who does, symptomatic of a GM trying too hard to prove a point, to confirm he’s smarter than his colleagues, while constantly digging the hole he now inhabits.

There will be much more to come on Keim’s job status in the coming weeks, and there is much at stake here. Keim has done more than decimate the roster with his cold hand. He’s responsible for the hiring of three terrible coaches and placing them in positions of great importance and autonomy: Steve Wilks, Mike McCoy and Vance Joseph.

Maybe Keim struck gold with Kliff Kingsbury, the head coach who has done more good than harm, who has upheld his end of the bargain while developing Kyler Murray. But there’s something off about the current leadership structure in Arizona, where an unconventional head coach is attempting to lead 53 hardcore men while not even in charge of selecting his own assistants.

Kingsbury has been very upfront about his limited authority, about leaning on Keim and his wealth of contacts. Kingsbury has also been very careful to not act like a phony, to appear like something he’s not, fully aware of the skepticism surrounding his hire.

That’s commendable. But maybe Kingsbury’s approach is destined to be a fatal flaw inside a NFL locker room, where hierarchy and line of command matters, where overblown conviction and bluster are part of the job, where the head coach must possess a certain level of chutzpah and gravitas.

That’s why Michael Bidwill faces a very difficult decision with Keim, a GM that spent many years engaging, befriending and tempering the hard-charging Cardinals’ boss, shielding him from those who need space to do their jobs.

Bidwill has also spent many years building a reputation as a player-friendly owner, chartering athletes in his airplane and investing in practice-facility perks. But if he sticks with his failing GM too long, he will be labeled a hypocrite inside the locker room, for having two sets of standards for players and executives.

After the 2019 season, the Cardinals will have ample salary cap space and another complement of high-rent draft picks to gain ground on the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks. But Keim has done nothing to prove he can put this team back together. His glory years are fading in the background. The team has won two of their last 16 home games. The signings and subsequent firings of D.J. Swearinger, Michael Crabtree and Tramaine Brock are strange, to say the least. At worst, they speak to a poisoned culture.

We need fresh energy. Murray and Kingsbury are trying, and until Sunday, they were mostly succeeding. Alas, it took just one bad game from the both of them to lay this team bare. It was a sobering reminder that the only thing holding the Cardinals together is a sensational rookie season from their diminutive quarterback and the guy who is calling the plays. Both of whom ran into a rookie wall against the Rams.

Maybe the regression against the Rams was an anomaly, when the Cardinals were doomed by the weirdness of a bye week in late November and a pedigreed opponent that came to Glendale with wounded pride, fresh off their 39-point loss on Monday Night Football.

If so, you can expect a dramatic response from the Cardinals in the coming weeks, a team that will want to atone for their lapse in urgency, a team that will be motivated by embarrassment, a team desperate to prove that all disappointment is temporary. Just like the Rams on Sunday.

If not, we have big problems. The Cardinals might not get that fourth victory, thereby showing very little progress in the standings. The incoming tsunami of Pittsburghers and Clevelanders will speak to the growing apathy surrounding Arizona’s NFL team. The sellout streak at State Farm Stadium will become the most deceiving and hollow statistic in Valley sports.

And all changes for 2020 must begin at the top.

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