Cardinals gave DC Vance Joseph ‘a gun with no bullets’ in 2019
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim sees a number of reasons why his team is capable of reaching the playoffs in 2020, he said Friday.
But none of those reasons were more strongly-worded than his take on the defense.
“Last year, I felt like we gave [defensive coordinator] Vance Joseph a gun with no bullets,” Keim said. “This year, I feel like we’ve given him … the addition of guys like [defensive lineman] Jordan Phillips and [inside linebacker] De’Vondre Campbell, and now [cornerback] Dre Kirkpatrick, who I felt has looked really, really good in camp. We’re giving him opportunities to have success, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
Last season, Joseph’s first with the Cardinals, the defensive unit fell apart quickly. Defensive linemen Darius Philon and Robert Nkemdiche were released for legal trouble and showing up out of shape, respectively, while starting corner Robert Alford missed the whole year with a leg injury. The team released safety D.J. Swearinger mid-season, and the defense struggled mightily to cover tight ends.
In other words, it was a mess. And because of it, Arizona gave up the fifth-most points in the NFL last season. The Buccaneers, Giants, Panthers and Dolphins were worse.
And in addition to the players Keim mentioned, they also added Swiss Army Knife and first-round pick out of Clemson Isaiah Simmons to the fold. Second-year pro Byron Murphy will likely play slot corner instead of being forced to the perimeter, where he played last year in the wake of Alford’s injury (Alford is injured again this year, but Keim signed Kirkpatrick and Ken Crawley to add depth there).
Keim also sees the head coach and offense as reasons why Arizona could be a playoff team.
“The direction of our head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who I feel like continues to grow and get better and better as a head coach, more comfortable in that position,” Keim said. “The quarterback [Kyler Murray] has looked outstanding during this camp. The play-makers that we’ve surrounded him with. And then the additions on defense.”
Like other sports leagues, the NFL’s cap situation going forward may be adversely impacted by the revenue hits the league and its teams have taken because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Keim recognized that may spell trouble for mid-level players going forward.
“It’s going to be tough because next year if the cap potentially goes down, there’s a number of different things you have to do from a forecasting standpoint,” he said. “We could get into a point where, really, the roster makeup is stars and rookie contracts. The middle guys, the guys who are strong vets, good leaders in the locker room who are maybe making good, solid money, those guys, it’s scary for them. Because you may get in a position where you can’t keep them. So it’s going to see interesting moving forward how this all plays out.”
BUDDA BAKER’S BIG BANK ACCOUNT
The Cardinals agreed to a four-year extension with safety Budda Baker this week for a reported amount that would make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL. Keim, who traded up from the 45th pick to the 36th in 2017 to take Baker, sees one of the best draft selections of his career reach his first big payday.
“I’ll never forget he was sticking out like a sore thumb,” Keim said. “I had a first-round grade on him. … Starting off as a Pro Bowl player on special teams and then evolving into a positional Pro Bowl player, just a guy that plays like his hair is on fire every snap, is really the heart and soul of our defense, loves the game, does everything you ask.
“And really, I started off our scouting meetings this year with our coaches and our personnel department, and we watched a play over and over, and it was Budda Baker basically running across the field and saving a touchdown, because of his effort, his speed and his tenacity. And I basically told everybody in that room, ‘Guys, if you want to know what a Cardinal looks like, to me, this is what a Cardinal looks like.'”
As some colleges continue to plan for a fall season while other schools and conferences postpone or cancel fall sports, the Cardinals’ draft preparations will be more messy and difficult than normal.
“Our personnel department is more important than ever,” Keim said. “And it’s more important than ever because of the unknown. And you’re going to have to use your resources — meaning your contacts on the college campuses — to be able to find out the guys who maybe are sleepers or guys that we need to focus on.
“And it’s really sad for the players, because if you look back and you say, ‘OK, what would have happened to Joe Burrow if he didn’t play his senior year?’ A guy that would have been probably a third or fourth-round pick who eventually became the number one pick in the draft. Or Kyler Murray, who, if he didn’t have that opportunity, [what would have happened?]”