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Why the Cardinals' free-agency inactivity is a serious red flag

Johnny Venerable Avatar
March 21, 2022

It’s been a week into NFL free agency and the Arizona Cardinals remain stuck in neutral. After a catastrophic collapse to end the 2021-22 campaign in which the Redbirds finished 1-5, one would assume general manager Steve Keim would be ready to make wholesale changes. Yet as we sit here roughly seven days removed from the start of the legal tampering period, the Cardinals have yet to sign one true free agent (with an expiring contract) from another club.

Instead, outside of the courting of former Minnesota Viking CB Jeff Gladney, Arizona has focused on prioritizing their own. First it was the Zach Ertz extension, followed by the re-upping of both James Conner and Colt McCoy. From there, Keim has focused on low-cost depth transactions a la Michael Dogbe, Maxx Williams and Dennis Gardeck. With all due respect to those quality role players, the Cardinals have too many glaring needs to be prioritizing the bottom half of their roster seven days into free agency. Overvaluing your own talent following the mirage that was Arizona’s 10-2 start last season could be a gigantic mistake for the Cardinals.

Following the departure of Christian Kirk and Chandler Jones, the Cardinals suddenly have glaring holes at both receiver and pass rusher. Yet day after day, Keim and company have allowed quality options such as Allen Robinson and former Cardinal Haason Reddick to sign with other clubs. Robinson in particular opted to sign with division rival and Super Bowl champion LA, a team that is currently cap-strapped in their own right. The aggressive nature of many of Arizona’s NFC counterparts makes the Cardinals’ hesitation to dive into free-agent pool all the more troubling, especially when you consider that the month of March is typically Keim’s most successful when it comes to reshaping his roster.

Blockbuster additions such as the aforementioned Jones and receiver DeAndre Hopkins were all done within the first wave of free agency in prior years. Last year Keim batted nearly a thousand with key additions such as J.J. Watt, A.J. Green, Rodney Hudson and Matt Prater. This time around, even with obvious holes to fill, Keim has clearly taken a new approach to constructing the Cardinals’ roster. The problem with that, assuming Arizona’s front office is pivoting harder toward the NFL Draft, is that Keim’s resume in late-April is among the worst in all of pro football. Regardless of the capital, the infamous executive is notorious for blundering the large majority of his early picks.

Perhaps Keim and the Cardinals are simply waiting for later waves to secure quality depth at discounted prices. After all, a large portion of Steve’s “Keim-time signings” have come in the latter months of the offseason, with the Cardinals hitting big with the likes of John Abraham, Kelvin Beachum, Karlos Dansby and Antonio Cromartie. Given the team’s desire to extend key pieces such as franchise quarterback Kyler Murray, stashing some much-needed cap space off to the side is not the worst idea. Keim must be particular when it comes to saddling his books with large amounts of guaranteed money, especially when you consider the fact that Murray is likely to command upwards of $40+ million per season.

Even with this in mind, there is a general consensus that the 49-year-old is no longer feeling the pressure to win big following his recent five-year extension. That same sense of urgency that both Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury had this time last year that led to the recruitment of Watt has seemingly disappeared. All it took was a dismal playoff performance (but a playoff performance nonetheless!) for owner and team president Michael Bidwill to open up the check book for his GM/head coach combo.

Given the state of the deteriorating NFC, the Cardinals probably like their chances to secure one of the seven playoff spots even without a strong offseason. That’s all well and good, but it’s obvious that the current state of this Cardinal roster is nowhere near the best of the conference as it stands today. Which means it’s not realistic to hope that the team’s embarrassing championship drought is liable to end anytime soon.

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