ARIZONA CARDINALS

Keim: Cardinals would ‘love’ to have Kenyan Drake, Larry Fitzgerald back

Dec 20, 2019, 8:59 AM | Updated: 10:39 am
Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake celebrates his touchdown against the San Francisco 49er...
Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake celebrates his touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, left, during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Finding core long-term pieces remains the Arizona Cardinals’ priority after a win over the Cleveland Browns and with two weeks of 2019 to go.

General manager Steve Keim has tough decisions to make. Two of his highest-paid players, David Johnson and Patrick Peterson, have gone through turbulent years.

What isn’t up for debate?

As the GM looks toward 2020, there are two impending free agents he would certainly like to have back: running back Kenyan Drake and receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Joining Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station Friday, Keim said he would allow the 16-year veteran Fitzgerald to have his space to make a decision about whether he will retire or return for 2020.

The time will come where Fitzgerald will sit down with Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

“Obviously, we would love to have him back,” Keim added. “I will say this: This is maybe the most fun I’ve seen him have in the last four years playing for us. He’s playing at a high level. I know he likes Kliff and I know he really likes our offense. Doesn’t hurt to have a guy (like quarterback Kyler Murray) that can spin it to him like this guy, too.

“The only thing that concerns me is Larry represents himself and he generally takes me to the woodshed in the negotiation part of it.”

Fitzgerald, who leads the Cardinals with 711 receiving yards this year, will make his decision in the offseason as usual.

It’s a more cut-and-dry situation than the one developing for Drake, who is coming off his rookie contract and seemingly building his case to make a good chunk of change in free agency.

Doug & Wolf fill-in host Tim Ring asked Keim if the general manager’s plan of attack had changed after trading for Drake midseason and then watching the running back shine as Arizona’s No. 1 running back.

“Well, I would say this: just the mindset of going into making the trade for Kenyan Drake, it wasn’t done because we had two backs that were injured and it was sort of a stop-gap situation,” Keim said. “If that was the case, my mindset was we would’ve signed a guy off the street. We truly felt that this was the type of player Kenyan Drake was, and that’s why we made the trade for him and sort of hoped that this was the kind of success that he will have.

“As far as waiting ’til after the season, that’s not necessarily the thing, either. I would certainly love to have Kenyan Drake back. I think he fits in this offense and really, really has given us a spark in many ways.”

In six games with the Cardinals, Drake has averaged 4.8 yards per carry and amassed 417 rushing yards and five touchdowns — four scores came last Sunday in a 38-24 win against the Cleveland Browns.

It’s put Arizona in a curious position with fellow running backs Johnson and Chase Edmonds locked into contracts next season.

Johnson’s situation is especially murky. He is signed through 2021, due to make $14.25 million next year and $12 million in his final contract year.

The running back has rushed for 342 yards on 3.7 yards per carry with 366 additional yards from receptions. He’s expressed discontent with his lack of touches — he had three last week — but has continued to grind through the benching.

“David continues to do some good things in the passing game,” Keim said. “There were some opportunities (against Cleveland) that Kyler didn’t see him on swing routes and things that would have created big-time yardage.”

To that point, Murray missed an explosive play opportunity when Johnson was alone on the right flat last Sunday — the rookie instead threw an interception to Browns linebacker Mack Wilson.

Meanwhile, Peterson, who is under contract through 2020, looked like his old self last week against the Browns with a pick and three passes defensed.

“I think it was great to see Pat play at a high level this past week and to get back into the form he’s played at in the past,” the GM said. “I think just talking to him, he feels like he got his legs back, he got his movement back, and there’s no doubt that the way that he played on Sunday showed the kind of corner he still is. He played at a high level.”

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Keim: Cardinals would ‘love’ to have Kenyan Drake, Larry Fitzgerald back