After the Simmons pick, the Arizona Cardinals have aced the offseason
History will bookmark the 2020 NFL Draft. It will be remembered for virtual boos, Kliff Kingsbury’s shoes and general managers far removed from their war rooms and Ivory towers, making selections from their homes, in the company of their children.
By the end of weekend, it will also cap a stunning comeback for Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, a man who reclaimed his powerbroker status in the midst of a pandemic.
It’s proof that some guys work best in the eye of a storm.
Keim pulled off the stunning heist of DeAndre Hopkins, unloading David Johnson’s contract in the process. He re-signed Kenyan Drake without much hassle. And on Thursday, he wasted little time virtually running to the virtual podium to claim Isaiah Simmons, a versatile linebacker who fell into Arizona’s lap.
Simmons is just like Daryl Washington, only bigger, smarter and faster. Or as Christian Kirk commented on Twitter:
This coup was made possible by the Giants, who selected tackle Andrew Thomas way too soon. It was made possible by the Chargers, the latest team to reach for an overrated, combine-hero quarterback out of sheer desperation. Just like that, the Cardinals had access to a high-ceiling, odds-on impact player, fortifying a defense that was chewed up like soft candy in 2019.
Tight ends will torment us no more.
That’s not all. Just before the draft began, a photo of Kingsbury nearly broke the Internet. He was spread out on a baller couch in a baller house that cost him $4.5 million. He was wearing those expensive shoes with no socks, with three cellphones neatly lined up on a table in front of him, with a backyard that resembled a swank Vegas resort.
Once, Kingsbury was mocked inside the industry, a failed college head coach who somehow snagged one of the 32 most important jobs in sports. He was the antithesis of Bruce Arians, who waited until age 60 to get his first shot. Zero dues were paid in Arizona. At least that was the prevailing perception.
Now, Kingsbury ranks among the coolest, hottest head coaches in his profession. Especially at a time when old-school archetypes are becoming obsolete. Rob Gronkowski retired because he was tired of the Bill Belichick culture in New England. Hopkins manipulated his way out of Houston because he had no relationship with Bill O’Brien, a Belichick disciple. A new generation of players no longer tolerate demeaning, berating, condescending head coaches.
Kingsbury represents the antidote, the new way, and the photo that circulated of him working from home is a powerful visual. It reminds everyone that Arizona is far ahead of the curve in progressive player relations. He also represents the first big move in Keim’s Redemption Tour, a GM who now has a lot of home runs to go with all those strikeouts.
No matter what happens in the rest of the draft, the Cardinals have aced the offseason. Not as good as Tampa, which added Tom Brady, Gronkowski and snagged tackle Tristan Wirfs with the No. 13 pick. But better than everyone else. They are now a dark-horse playoff contender in 2020, especially with an extra playoff berth available in each conference.
There were other quirks and oddities. The first three selections all attended Ohio State. It marked the third consecutive draft that deeply disappointed Josh Rosen, who will now be searching for his third team in three years. And it wasn’t easy watching CeeDee Lamb go to the Cowboys. Or ASU star Brandon Aiyuk ending up with the 49ers.
It was great to experience a real sporting event for the first time in nearly six weeks, even if the entire draft class will be hard-pressed to make an instant impact when traditional preparation routines are still suspended, including rookie mini-camps or anything that involves human contact. Assimilating these young men into productive rookies will be a tremendous challenge.
But the draft is always a source of optimism, even inside a pandemic. Every team got better. Every football fan in every city has renewed hope. And after four years of non-winning football, the Cardinals are back in the game. Just like their general manager.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.