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Dan Bickley

Keim should trade up only if Cardinals can get Smith or Waddle

DeVonta Smith #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates his touchdown with Jaylen Waddle #17 during the second quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Cardinals need a cornerstone cornerback. They need a wide receiver with game-changing speed. Five of those players are available in the first round of Thursday’s NFL Draft.

All of them will be gone by the No. 16 overall pick.

Welcome to Steve Keim’s latest dilemma. For the second consecutive offseason, the Cardinals general manager has delivered sizzling acquisitions under intense scrutiny. He has imported a number of household names to Arizona, including the megawatt profile of J.J. Watt.

Once, there was general consensus that the 2021 season was make-or-break for the current regime. That both Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury would be fired and replaced if the Cardinals fail to make the playoffs.

I think Keim has changed the calculus. His shrewd pursuit of marquee players and his spot-on analysis of what failed this team in 2020 (leadership and physicality) have restored a level of confidence in the team’s GM, so much that he can achieve the unthinkable:

He could last 10 years with the same organization despite potentially hiring four different head coaches. But that only happens if Keim turns around his wretched draft day legacy, doing something productive and competent with his diminished hand.

Keim has six selections in the next few days, but half of them occur after pick No. 220. Meanwhile, trading up to secure an elite cornerback or wide receiver would significantly lessen their draft capital for next year’s draft, as well. And which side of the ball would be best to justify that kind of investment?

Keim hasn’t shown much touch when it comes to drafting wide receivers, although he may have something of an alibi with the diminutive Andy Isabella. For whatever reason, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill was caught on tape asking Kingsbury whom he preferred prior to Isabella’s selection two years ago, seemingly subverting Keim’s area of expertise.

The NFL draft is notorious for first-round busts and disappointments. Imagine how much smoother things could be if owners stayed out of war rooms.

This much is certain: The Texans’ offense flourished when surrounding DeAndre Hopkins with speedy receivers. The Cardinals need a receiver who can run and catch, a wide receiver who can catch and run. They will never get in range of LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, but they could move up to snag Alabama’s Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle.

They could also move up to secure Patrick Surtain II or Jaycee Horn, but that’s not Keim’s best play. Cornerback is more of a long-term concern than a short-term fix in Arizona, and there’s no immediate need that requires the loss of a first-round pick in 2022.

Remember, the Cardinals are a team full of older, veteran performers. The organization is betting that the tanks aren’t empty on any number of recently-signed players. They have pushed all their chips to the center of the table.

Keim should move up, but only for a wide receiver. And I cross my fingers that he targets the right kid from Alabama. Because the biggest issue facing this team is elevating the offense, a unit that was both erratic and dysfunctional by the end of the 2020 season. And because Keim has no margin for error or mulligans remaining when it comes to the NFL Draft.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier