Kingsbury, Like Wilks, Set Up to Fail

When NFL teams grossly underachieve as the Arizona Cardinals have done this season, most fingers point to the head coach. Fans are taught to believe that NFL head coaches are the ultimate puppeteers —- because they hold all of the strings that will either make or break the team’s chances to win.

However, when one looks more closely at the actual strings that have been tying Kliff Kingsbury’s hands this season, those strings come from the Cardinals’ owner and his hand-picked GM.

Is it by pure coincidence that the Cardinals’ worst two seasons in Steve Keim’s 10 year tenure as GM occurred in years where he has had to take a leave of absence?

When one takes a close look at the ways in which Steve Keim handled the 2018 and 2022 off-seasons, there are a number of disconcerting parallels that essentially rendered Steve Wilks and Kliff Kingsbury as lame ducks. As William Shakespeare would say, “Let me count the ways…”

2018 off season

defects:

  • S Tyrann Mathieu, which resulted in a major drama and PR hit for the Cardinals.
  • LB Carlos Dansby
  • T Jared Veldheer
  • CB Tramon Williams (the team’s best CB in 2017 who gave the Packers a low salary, team friendly contract to return to Green Bay)

Notable Coaching and Free Agent Signings:

  • OC Mike McCoy
  • QB Sam Bradford
  • QB Mike Glennon
  • CB Bene Benwkere
  • LB Jeremy Cash
  • WR Cobi Hamilton
  • G Justin Pugh
  • T Andre Smith
  • CB Marcus Williams

Either due to poor play, pre-season cuts, mid-season cuts or injuries, the OC and none of these players made a significant or successful contribution during the season. None. In fact, one could argue that the vast majority of these players were major busts.

The 2018 NFL Draft:

  • Trade: Cardinals send picks #15 (R1), #79 (R3) and #152 (R5) to the Raiders for the #10 pick.
  • R1: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
  • R2: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
  • R3: Mason Cole, C, Michigan
  • R4: Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham
  • R6: Chris Campbell, CB, Penn St.
  • R7: Korey Cunningham, T, Cincinnati

Glaring Omission at Position of Need: CB

2018 Draftees Re-Signed to 2nd Contracts: 0

Re-Draft: (Hidsight is 20/20, but, hey why the heck not? Especially seeing as the QB so many of us wanted would have been available at #15):

  • R1: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
  • R2: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
  • R3: Orlando Brown, T, Oklahoma
  • R3: Mason Cole, C, Michigan
  • R4: DJ Reed, CB, Kansas St.
  • R5: Wyatt Teller, G, Virginia Tech
  • R6: Sebastian Joseph-Day, DT, Rutgers
  • R7: Philip Lindsay, RB, Colorado

Think of how a draft similar to this one could have helped Steve Wilks and his staff, Wilks, coming from Carolina, was very familiar with having a mobile dual-threat QB in Cam Newton and what an onus a dual-threat QB puts on the defence.

Training Camp Disadvantage:

GM suspended for 5 weeks, then returned to make the roster picks/cuts.

2022 off-season

defects:

  • Edge Chandler Jones (parting message: “I want to go to a team that knows how to use me.”)
  • WR Christian Kirk
  • RB Chase Edmonds
  • CB Robert Alford (team’s best CB in 2021)
  • LB Jordan Hicks (replaced by Nick Vigil)
  • NT Corey Peters

Inside Free Agent/Contract Extension Signings (including Rodney Hudson being talked out of retirement)

  • QB Kyler Murray
  • T DJ Humphries
  • C Rodney Hudson
  • G Juston Pugh
  • RB James Conner
  • TE Zach Ertz
  • S Jalen Thomson
  • Edge Dennis Gardeck
  • QB Colt McCoy
  • WR AJ Green
  • TE Maxx Williams
  • CB Antonio Hamilton
  • S Charles Washington
  • DT Michael Dogbe
  • LB Zeke Turner
  • P Andy Lee
  • LS Aaron Brewer

Due to inconsistent play and/or injuries, how many of these players would say has played up to expectations? Have any of these players exceeded expectations?

Outside Free Agents:

  • G Will Hernandez
  • LB Nick Vigil
  • TE Stephen Anderson
  • LB Ben Niemann
  • RB Darrell Williams

The one potential keeper on a long-term contract here is G Will Hernandez.

PR Hits/Setbacks/Distractions/Tragedies:

  • Kyler Murray’s contract demands (social media scrubbing and agent’s highly public ransom note), ESPN reporting of the Cardinals’ alleged concerns about Kyler’s leadership and commitment and the subsequent mishandling of the situation by Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim.
  • Kyler Murray’s “homework clause” and $10.5M incentive to attend OTAs in 2023 and beyond.
  • WR DeAndre Hopkins’ 6 game suspension for a PED violation (which he has denied)
  • Edge Chandler Jones stating upon signing with Raiders: “I want to go to a team that knows how to use me.”
  • CB Jeff Gladney and his girlfriend, Mercedes Palacios, perishing in a car accident.
  • Hollywood Brown getting arrested for driving in excess of 120 miles per hour on his way to work.
  • RBC James Saxon leaving the team due to a domestic violence allegation.
  • Kyler Murray f-bombing his head coach on national TV.
  • Patrick Peterson publicly calling out Steve Keim and Kyler Murray.
  • Eno Benjamin getting mysteriously cut from the team following an alleged confrontation with a staff member.
  • OLC Sean Kugler being fired for an alleged sexual assault in Mexico (which he has since denied and has argued is a “miscommunication or a case of mistaken identity)
  • DC Vance Joseph calling out Patriots’ OC Matt Patricia for coaching offense “like, well, a defensive coach.”
  • GM Steve Keim taking a medical related leave of absence.

Off-Season Disadvantage: Players Who Elected to Skip OTAs:

  • Kyler Murray
  • DJ,. Humphries
  • Justin Pugh
  • Rodney Hudson
  • Kelvin Beachum
  • Marchioness Brown

Think of how missing six offensive starts (QB1, WR2, 4 of 5 OL) tied Kliff Kingsbury’s hands in trying to amend, upgrade and synchronize his offense for the 2022 season.

During training camp both Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy were injured and DJ Humphries was sitting out until he got his contract extension.

2022 NFL Draft:

Trade: Cardinals send their 1st (#25) and 4th (#128) round picks to the Ravens for WR Marquise Brown and a compensatory 3rd round pick (#100).

  • R2: Trey McBride, TE, Colorado St,
  • R3: Cameron Thomas, Edge, San Diego St.
  • R3:: Myjai Sanders, Edge, Cincinnati
  • R6: Keontay Ingram, RB, USC
  • R7: Lecitus Smith, G/C, Virginia Tech
  • R7: Christian Matthew, CB, Valdosta St.
  • R7: Jesse Luketa, LB, Penn St.
  • R7: Marquis Hayes, G, Oklahoma

Notable omissions: CB (once again —- this team has not has a legit slot CB in eons, ironically while playing in a division with Cooper Kupp, Tyler Lockett, Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey),

Re-Draft: (because why the heck not?)

  • R!: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
  • R2: Martin Emerson, CB, Mississippi St.
  • R3: Myjai Sanders, Edge, Cincinnati
  • R4: Isaiah Likely, TE/WR, Coastal Carolina
  • R6: Jaylen Watson, CB, Washington St.
  • R7: Isaiah Pacheco, RB, Rutgers
  • R7: Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa St. (Cardinals met with him and worked him out during the draft process)
  • R7: Jesse Luketa, LB, Penn St.
  • R7: Marquis Hayes, G, Oklahoma

Yes, hindsight is 20/20. But think of what the Cardinals could have accomplished if they had moved on from Justin Pugh and Rodney Hudson, they would have had $16.5M to sign the likes of G Mark Glowinski (3 years $18M) and WR DJ Chark (1 year $10M ). Then, they could have used the $3.5M they gave to AJ Green to sign Edge Carlos Dunlop (1 year $3M) to help counter for the loss of Chandler Jones.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like TE Trey McBride and DE Cameron Thomas a lot and see them as potential core players. But, failing to address the CB position has continued to hurt this team’s chances, particularly versus the top teams.

Conclusion:

The concurrence of lazy, ill-advised off-season decisions, combined with the GM’s leaves off absence in 2018 and 2022 deterred the team’s chance from the get-go, even before those seasons began. During these off-seasons, little to no positive buzz was created by the organization. Instead, the organization found itself mired in the perpetuation of a largely negative national perception.

Do you think national perceptions matter to free agents and prospective coaches?

In 2018, Steve Wilks never had a fighter’s chance, given the entirety of the circumstances that tied his hands.

This year, Kliff Kingsbury never had a fighter’s chance, given the entirety of the circumstances that tied his hands.

The common denominator is obvious.

Therefore, with a much needed change coming at GM, wouldn’t it be fair to Kliff Kingsbury to see, at least for the 2023 season, how well he and the team can do under new leadership?

Steve Wilks was made the convenient scapegoat while the GM who tied Wilks’ hands received a contract extension.

Should, in all honesty, Kliff Kingsbury be likewise made the scapegoat for this year’s failures and much of what has occurred on and off the field?

To be completely fair, the two questions above are rhetorical.

The real question is, will Michael Bidwill be fair this time around?

Go ahead and try to make a case for how Kliff had a decent chance to win this season under the circumstances, try to make it air tight.

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