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Hoping, wondering, knowing: Keim's health, 28 free agents in 2023, Kingsbury wants accountability, Conner's running

Howard Balzer Avatar
December 16, 2022

I hope …

That whatever Cardinals general Steve Keim is experiencing isn’t too serious and that all fans have prayers for Keim and his family at this time. It’s no surprise that some people on social media feel compelled to post nasty and snide comments about him because that’s the nature of dialogue these days.

After news broke nationally on Wednesday that Keim is taking an indefinite leave of absence for health-related reasons, the team issued a statement confirming it shortly after the reports emerged.

It did sound ominous when NFL Media reporter Ian Rapoport said Thursday that this is “a situation that has been developing over the last several weeks, several months.”

The “several months” comment raised eyebrows because Keim was featured on the first two episodes of Hard Knocks that aired Nov. 9 and Nov. 16. In the latter one, he was shown on the field as part of the coin toss before his son Carson’s game on Nov. 10 for Hamilton High School against arch-rival Chandler High.

Sources have told gophnix.com that Keim has possibly been dealing with the issue the entire calendar year.

While there should be concern for the man and his family on a personal level, it’s also understandable that at the tail end of a brutal season that has seen way more drama and pitfalls than normal, there are many questions regarding how the personnel department will proceed after the season ends Jan. 8.

The showcase bowls for draft-eligible talent begin Jan. 14 with the Hula Bowl, followed by the NFLPA Bowl on Jan. 28, the East-West Bowl on Feb. 2 and the Senior Bowl on Feb. 4.

For now, vice president of player personnel Quentin Harris and vice president of pro personnel Adrian Wilson are sharing Keim’s responsibilities.

Matt Harriss, who is in his fourth season with the team, has been Keim’s right-hand man in contract negotiations and management of the salary cap.

It was wildly coincidental that during his press conference Wednesday, a few hours before the Keim news broke, coach Kliff Kingsbury was asked about his relationship with Keim and how frequently they have talked about players scheduled to be free agents when the 2023 league year begins on March 15.

It now appears clear why Kingsbury deflected the question, saying, “We all talk through that. VJ (defensive coordinator Vance Joseph), who’s been a head coach, myself, (assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jeff) Coach Rodgers and all the personnel department, we have a good relationship.

“We kind of point out what we think, and a lot of times coaches have their agendas, but they don’t see the dollar signs. Then personnel sees the dollar signs, not some of the ins and outs of what a player may bring in the locker room and in the meeting room, but we have good discussions throughout the season.”

The Cardinals are scheduled to have 28 unrestricted free agents and the deadline to use the transition or franchise tag is March 7.

Kingsbury acknowledged, “Yeah, it’s a lot. There’ll be a lot of turnover; there’s no doubt. I think there’s some older players that have done a great job here and some may be at the end of their careers. Then some may be moving on. I think every offseason presents new challenges and it’ll be an exciting time to see how we can add to some of these young core players that we’re excited about.”

Two of those young players with expiring contracts are cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. and defensive end Zach Allen, both of whom are currently injured. According to overthecap.com, the Cardinals currently have 31 players under contract for 2023 with about $24.57 million space on a salary cap that is expected to be between $220 and $225 million.

For the record, here is a position-by-position look at possible free agents:

Quarterback Trace McSorley

Wide receiver A.J. Green (contract voids)

Tight end Stephen Anderson

Running backs Corey Clement, Darrel Williams

Offensive linemen T Kelvin Beachum, G Rashaad Coward, G Cody Ford, G Max Garcia, C/G Sean Harlow, G Will Hernandez, T Josh Miles, C Billy Price, G Justin Pugh

Defensive linemen DE Zach Allen, DT Trysten Hill, DE J.J. Watt (contract voids)

Linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill, Ezekiel Turner, Tanner Vallejo, Nick Vigil

Defensive backs S Chris Banjo, CB Antonio Hamilton, CB Byron Murphy Jr., S Charles Washington

Specialists LS Aaron Brewer, P Andy Lee, K Matt Prater

I wonder …

If the number of walkthroughs the Cardinals have had in recent weeks has affected preparation for games.

After both Kingsbury and quarterback Colt McCoy said after Monday’s game it would be important for McCoy to have a full week of practice prior to Sunday’s game against Denver, the reality is the team had walkthroughs Wednesday and Thursday and the Friday practice is scheduled for approximately 75 minutes.

So it was that Kingsbury was asked Wednesday if he might change Thursday’s walkthrough to a regular practice to get McCoy more work. He said, “No. I think this late in the year with some of the injuries we’ve had, we’ll stick to that schedule and just being able to even walk it through and then full-speed reps on Friday compared to basically starting a whole game. It’s one thing to go in after a half, but after the third play when he had to go in and do that, that’s the full game plan.

“Trying to execute without getting any reps at all is not easy, but I thought he moved the ball well at times and handled himself well. A couple of things we’d like to have back, but I think just going through the process, being the guy being able to operate and get the walkthrough reps will be big for him.”

McCoy said, “You still get the reps. It’s a little bit more than a walkthrough. We’re working on things that we are hoping to get like different looks. Some of those we can tempo up a little bit.”

Talking about the Denver defense, he said, “They’re very solid, very sound and very well-coached, so a lot of these walkthroughs to me are just going to be hammering down details, spacing and being where we’re supposed to be. Just looking back to the Patriots game, I felt like the penalties crushed us and they were self-inflicted wounds. We’ve talked about them kind of all year and at certain times they bit us on Monday night.

“I think having a point of emphasis on some of the things that we’re trying to do with some of the motions and shifts, and just being very detailed (is important). No pre-snap penalties and that will give us a chance. When you’re playing against a defense like this you’re going to get beat if you do those things, so I think that these walkthroughs are good for that. As far as full-speed reps go, I’ll make a list throughout the week of plays I want to get reps on Friday, and hopefully we can squeeze them in.”

On the defensive side, safety Budda Baker said playing at the NFL level is mostly about knowing what you’re supposed to do.

“In this game it’s 75 percent mental,” Baker said. “If guys don’t know their job on the field, whether it’s walkthrough or real game, you’re not going to be able to play football. So it’s a matter of understanding your job. And most importantly, we always say, ‘It’s above-the-neck emphasis.’ And although we might not be banging, hitting each other and being very active, we still have our lifts we have to do, we still have runs we have to do and these walkthroughs are definitely helping guys.”

Baker said that’s especially important with younger players “because the mental aspects matter more than anybody will ever know. Some people just think we go out there and play on the field, but it’s way more than that. There’s way more things we have to understand and know situational football, like first quarter, second quarter, end of half, four-minute, two-minute, red zone, high red zone, low red zone. All different types of things that people from the naked eye don’t really see, but are things that we have to work throughout the week and that’s what the walkthroughs are doing for us.”

I know …

It was pretty impressive what cornerback Antonio Hamilton did during the introduction of the starting defense Monday night against the Patriots.

Hamilton had rookie cornerback Christian Matthew run out with him just to experience what it was like.

Kingsbury said he didn’t see that, but said, “That’s cool. Ham’s been through it all. His journey is pretty special, and all the guys have a ton of respect for what he’s been through, and he’s earned every second of it. For him to kind of pass that down, that doesn’t surprise me, but that’s a cool gesture.”

Baker agreed, saying, “It was definitely special for Ham to do that. It’s great running out of that tunnel, especially playing for the Cardinals and running out that tunnel and hearing all the fans yell and scream, enjoy the excitement of the game just to watch football to watch the game that we play and try to win. It’s definitely special that he did that and of course I hope Christian’s gonna get many more opportunities to run out that tunnel.”

With Murphy still dealing with a back injury, Matthew could see more playing time, especially after the release this week of Trayvon Mullen Jr.

Kingsbury claimed the departure of Mullen wasn’t directly linked to Matthew’s growth. Had Mullen played in two more games, the Cardinals would have owed the Raiders a sixth-round pick in the 2023 draft instead of a seventh-rounder. Kingsbury said, “We just decided to go in another direction there, but Christian has really come on. Whether it’s special teams or defense, we like what we’re seeing from him.

“Christian had the injury that set him back a little bit. We thought he was progressing nicely, but he’s coming on. He’s a long mature kid. He’s 25-, 26-years-old (turned 26 on Oct. 26). He’s a little bit older and has handled his business well. I’m excited to see what he does the last four weeks.”

I hope …

And believe running back James Conner will be a large part of the game plan during the last four games of the season.

Conner has rushed for 561 yards this season while missing three games and leaving early because of injuries in two. However, the last two games have been highly productive.

In Week 12 against the Chargers, he rushed 25 times for 120 yards and added 20 yards on three receptions. Monday night against New England, he had 15 attempts for 85 yards to go with six catches for 29 yards. That’s 254 yards from scrimmage in the two games.

There would have been more yards against the Patriots, but after falling behind 27-13 early in the final quarter, Conner had only one carry for no yards in the final 15 minutes as 18 pass plays were called.

Kingsbury said, “I’ve been pleased with the plans and the way he’s executed them. I think James is seeing it well. I think he feels totally healthy. For a while, that rib was lingering longer than I think he let us know, and he’s running downhill, playing physical and it was good to see him get involved in the pass game as well. Colt did a good job in finding him on some checkdowns and that’s a big part of his game.”

I wonder …

How the players will respond to what Kingsbury said in the locker room following the loss to the Patriots. It was all broadcast on Hard Knocks this week.

Kingsbury said, “I made some (expletive) calls. But the basic (expletive) that we know how to do, it means a lot in these games. It’s hard to overcome and it continues to happen. It’s getting it right in practice and holding each other accountable.

“I treat you like men. That’s how it’s going to be. That may be a fault of mine, but I’m going to treat you like (expletive) men, so we’ve got to hold each other accountable somehow the last month because we’re better than that (expletive). You understand that? That’s it. We’re better and that’s all I want to see for the rest of this last month: play your best football because I love being round you guys, I love coming to work every day with you. You practice hard and you fight your ass off for each other, but we have to do it (expletive) right because we’re giving (expletive) away.”

A couple players did show how they felt in the aftermath of Kingsbury’s words.

Safety Chris Banjo said, “I’ve played ball for a long time. We got some good coaches and like he said, he treats us like men! Be a (expletive) man and respect the (expletive) game, straight up. Plain and (expletive) simple.”

It was then Conner who said, “It’s got to come to an end. It’s got to come to an end. Realize it, be blessed. But what we’re not going to do is sit and bitch about this and that.”

I know …

McCoy has a strong sense of self, and he expressed it during a long, 18-minute press conference with the media that touched on a variety of subjects.

McCoy turned 36 in September, has played for five teams, but has started only 35 and played in 55 of the 206 regular-season games he’s been on a roster.

When asked how long he plans to play and what keeps him motivated in his role, McCoy said, “I count my blessings to be honest, guys. I love to play football and I have the opportunity to do that. If I didn’t think I could still play I wouldn’t be here. So I’m just going to go out there, put a smile on my face, have some fun, lead these men, and try to win these last four games.”

As for his longevity, he said, “I’ve certainly had my injuries in the past. I’ve had opportunities and have just not been able to hold on to them because of injuries. Dealing with those and as you get older, you get smarter, you get more mature, and you see the game a little bit different. I think to be honest, working hard, being a great teammate, studying, always being prepared, helping out the guys around you and (being) encouraging. That’s not going to keep you in the NFL because you’ve got to go out and play. The NFL is about executing, the NFL is about performance and obviously you’ve got to go do that, but just on a daily basis trying to be consistent and (be) the same guy no matter what’s going on. The same guy that when guys come to you, they know what they’re going to get every day.”

Kingsbury and players, even on defense, talk about how he often helps anyone if he notices something. Last season, Chandler Jones told the media about advice McCoy had given him during a week of preparation for a game against Seattle in which he had two sacks.

McCoy concluded, “I’m grateful that people say that. I want to be a great teammate. I want to be consistent. I want the guys to know what they’re going to get every day when I walk through the door. I think that’s not something that just happens overnight. I think that’s established over time. I’m one of the oldest guys in there and I’ve been through a lot. (I’ve) been through seasons like this before and I think it’s really important to carry your head high, work hard, set an example and be a leader. I try to do that to the best of my ability each day.”

The quotebook

McCoy, smiling, when asked how his wife felt two years ago when he decided not to retire: “She’s a trooper.”

On if it’s hit him that he’s the starter for the rest of the season: “If that’s the case, I promise you I’ll be ready. I think I’m just taking it one week at a time. I’m just focused on Denver. It’s a short week, so not a whole lot of time to go buy my kids’ Christmas presents.”

He laughed when it was then suggested that during Christmas shopping it will be time for his wife to be a trooper again.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com

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