Cardinals GM Steve Keim talks tags, cuts and free agency amid sunk cap

Feb 19, 2021, 10:21 AM
(Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)...
(Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)
(Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)

The NFL world remains in a holding pattern, and it’ll be that way until teams learn where the salary cap lands for the 2021 season.

For Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, that means there’s a lot to be sorted out. That process can’t begin until he knows the cap situation beyond the $180 million minimum the league cited on Thursday.

Keim joined Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf for Newsmakers Week on Friday, and he touched on everything from outside linebacker Haason Reddick’s tag candidacy, a suggested cut of linebacker Chandler Jones, DeAndre Hopkins’ recruitment of J.J. Watt and the potential for quarterback Kyler Murray to try his hand at baseball.

Free agency still in early stages

Internally, the Cardinals have several notable free agents, including receiver Larry Fitzgerald, cornerback Patrick Peterson and running back Kenyan Drake.

Keim made it clear that decisions regarding those players depend on the cap.

“Teams are going to have to be mindful of the fact the cap is dropping. You can manipulate that, but that’s kicking the can forward, and at some point in time you have to pay the penalty,” he said.

“In 2013, when I first became general manager, the first thing I did within a week of becoming the GM was release (safety) Adrian Wilson,” Keim added. “You guys obviously know how close and near-and-dear he is to my heart. … It comes with the territory to make tough decisions. Hopefully, we can get some clarity in the next coming weeks.”

Keim has been in communication with Fitzgerald but has given the 17-year pro space as he decides whether to return next season. The GM has also talked with Peterson, though Keim repeated that the salary situation will need to be solidified before negotiations about numbers can begin.

Can Arizona lean on veteran value signings?

Looking outside the Cardinals’ own locker room, other teams will potentially make cuts of well-paid veterans.

Perhaps Keim can land plug-and-play talents on relatively small, one-year deals.

“We’ll take our opportunities and take shots where we can if we think it’s smart, it’s a good business decision and it makes our football team better,” he said. “I could see a number of one-year deals being done, but at the same time I think there’s going to be some big contracts handed out to guys who deserve it.”

One veteran who is an instant-impact free agent is defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who mutually parted ways with the Houston Texans this month.

Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ Instagram post recruiting Watt led to Keim being asked about the five-time First Team All-Pro.

Has Arizona reached out to the free agent?

“I don’t want to get into details, but as you know, if there’s an opportunity that makes sense from both the football side and the business side, we’ll certainly take a swing,” Keim said. “It’s fun to see your players get involved.

“Obviously Hop’s a guy I got a great deal of respect for, not just as a player but obviously the addition of him has certainly improved our recruiting game.”

Is tagging on the table?

The Cardinals used a transition tag on Drake last season. Would they use a tag to keep control over another player in 2021?

Reddick is a candidate for such a move after his 12.5-sack campaign, and Keim didn’t dismiss that from happening.

“Possible. I mean, there’s a lot of scenarios we have to go through,” he said. “There’s nobody that I’m more proud of than Haason and how he handled his business. For a guy who was much-maligned earlier in his career, bounced back and fought through adversity, really proud of him and the way he handled his business.

“Guy never stopped working and played his tail off this year, and obviously the production speaks for itself.”

What about a surprise cut?

Chandler Jones produced 11 tackles and one sack in just more than four games before a biceps injury ended his 2020 season.

The outside linebacker turns 31 next year and will carry a $20.8 million cap hit, according to Spotrac. That led’s Gregg Rosenthal to list him as a surprise cut option this offseason.

Keim did not sidestep addressing that possibility.

“I’ll reject that,” the GM said.

Extra points

— On whether Keim would be OK if the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Kyler Murray’s rights from the Oakland A’s in order for him to play baseball: “Hell, no! (Laughs) No, listen, I have a lot of confidence in the fact that Kyler’s going to continue to concentrate on football. He’s a guy that when you talk to him about this game, he is a football junkie.

“He has texted me a number of times about different prospects, whether it’s free agents or college players. Again, that’s what excites me about certain guys in our locker room. When they’re that invested in our team, they want to see certain players from different teams or colleges join our organization.”

— On how Murray can take the next step: “The little things, whether it’s an understanding of coverage concepts and reading defenses, it’s something that he’s just going to get better with time. Again, he’s a guy that’s committed, he’s passionate. I love his intensity. He and I have had talks about how to channel that intensity. I think obviously the best is yet to come with Kyler.”

— On if 2021 is a make-or-break year for coach Kliff Kingsbury to make the playoffs: “I think that for all of us it’s just expectations. Every year is expectations. I don’t know if the (right phrase is) make-or-break. We approach every year the same. The greatest thing that I’ve seen from Kliff — and the thing I try to do — is look back, self-evaluate and see where you can improve and that’s where you get your growth.

“I think Kliff’s done a fantastic job this offseason. He and I sat down multiple times, talked about the things that went right, that went wrong, ways that we can fix it. … I’m very confident that the things that were negative issues with our football team will get corrected.”

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