For the Dallas Cowboys, it is Jerry Jones. For the New England Patriots, it is Bill Belichick. For the Arizona Cardinals, a new household name is being born. If it isn’t, it should be, as Arizona general manager Steve Keim is an emerging star at the general manager position.
While Bruce Arians, Todd Bowles and the other new faces for Arizona deserve a share of the credit for 2013’s success, look no further than the man in charge to see why the Cardinals are trending upward at an unmatched pace.
His “rookie” campaign in the job saw him first acquire maligned quarterback Carson Palmer for the NFL equivalent of a box of Pop-Tarts, who would have a Renaissance season for the Cardinals, throwing for a career high 4274 yards. The final statline is modest at 24 touchdowns to 22 interceptions, but Palmer was playing at an elite level in the middle of the season for the Redbirds. That spells good news if Palmer can play at such a level in 2014.
Before the season, Keim would then go on to win draft day, drafting defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and running back Andre Ellington. Both of those guys would go on to have huge seasons for the Arizona Cardinals, and could be considered steals considering their draft position. Finding late gems like that is an easy way to build a competitive and deep football club, and Keim and company have already displayed a knack for it.
It’s hard to believe, but the positive reception for Keim’s inaugural draft could improve even further. His first draft pick, offensive guard Johnathan Cooper didn’t even lace up for the Cardinals this season. Fourth round linebacker Alex Okafor was injured early as well, so Keim’s first draft has a chance to get even better if those guys turn into the players they are projected to be.
Keim’s most impressive feat, however, would be his aptitude in the free agent market. Safety Yeremiah Bell and linebackers John Abraham and Karlos Dansby all turned out to be huge signings. Abraham received a Pro Bowl invite for his 2013 campaign, and Dansby may have one of the most impressive statlines boasted by a linebacker this season. The Cardinals gave these “old” guys a chance, and were rewarded with veteran leadership and elite play level.
Those are just the big signings, as defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and running back Rashard Mendenhall were vital cogs in the Cardinals machine as well.
An underrated aspect of the free agent game though is the in-season activity, something Steve Keim has down to an art. At times, it felt as though Keim and the scouting department were one step ahead and finding new guys each week to step up. Whenever Arizona loses someone to injury, I have reason to believe Steve Keim has a list of ten or more players at any position he can get on demand to fill the spot.
For instance, defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu was a waiver wire pickup in September. He would go on to lock down the position on a rotation with Dan Williams. Wide receiver Brittan Golden and linebackers Dontay Moch and Marcus Benard were also signed late and made some big plays on the big stage for the Cardinals. It is the little signings like those that can make all the difference for a team in the playoff hunt. Those signings almost did, if we’re keeping score.
Needless to say, Keim has compiled a pretty impressive act to follow in his sophomore campaign. With a brand new pool of draftable rookies and signable free agents, 2014 starts now for Steve Keim and the Arizona Cardinals.