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fairly candid interview with Card's GM
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Steve Keim knows the Cardinals. This is his second year as Arizonaís general manager, but his 16th with the organization. He started as an area scout in 1999, working the entire East Coast, from Maine to Miami. Since then, heís been promoted to the director of college scouting, the director of player personnel, and, finally, to the big chair before last season.
In his first year in charge, there was an argument for Keim as the best general manager in football. He grabbed Tyrann Mathieu in the third round before selecting Andre Ellington in the sixth. His debut free-agent class yielded Karlos Dansby (went to the Pro Bowl) and John Abraham (put up double-digit sacks). Under Keim and first-year coach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals won 10 games and just missed out on the playoffs. This year, Arizona started its season with a win over San Diego, thanks in part to a big night from Carson Palmer.
One of Keimís first moves was trading what amounted to a sixth-round pick for Palmer last April, and thatís where Iíll pick up the conversation I had with Keim during an early-August practice.
On Carson, I remember you said at the combine that you felt like he was a guy who allowed you not to reach at that 20th pick for a quarterback. You could roll things over into this year if you needed to. At what point in the draft did you know you werenít taking a quarterback in the first round?
Probably the minute Blake Bortles was off the board. There were other guys that we liked, but Iíve said this many times, my philosophy is that if youíre convinced a guy is a franchise quarterback, and thatís going to be the player youíre going to invest your long-term future in ó if youíre convinced ó you take him. Regardless of first pick, second pick, fifth pick, 20th pick. If youíre not convinced that quarterback is the answer, you donít take him, for several reasons. If you take that guy, and he doesnít pan out, you just cost yourself about four or five years. Because that guyís going to end up having to play, and you canít expect him to do it right now. Youíre going to have to give him an opportunity to play, and if thereís a rocky road, youíre going to have to give him time to work through that rocky road.
My thought is this: If youíre convinced, you take him in the first round. If youíre not convinced, you take him in Rounds 4-7 if they have certain physical traits that youíre excited about ó ŗ la Logan Thomas.
But people generally panic. The other part of it is the confidence I have in [Carson]. Carson is 34 now? Heís a healthy 34, heís energetic. After the season, he came into my office as fired up as some of these rookies. Heís excited about the pieces of the puzzle weíre putting together for him. Does he have two or three more years in him? It remains to be seen. The last great quarterback I was around was here when he was 35 to 38 [Kurt Warner]. Until we find somebody better than Carson Palmer, heís going to be our quarterback.
And you mean better than Carson Palmer today.
Yeah, well, when I say that, it doesnít necessarily mean that I wouldnít take a shot on a guy in the first round if heís the future. But just to draft a quarterback because heís young, Iím not going to panic like that. Iíd rather use those high picks on players who are impact players at important positions. Again, building your supporting cast. If youíre sitting there at 20, 27, and youíre forcing a quarterback that you donít believe in, you might have just passed up a guy thatís a potential Pro Bowler. And that makes you worse.
Itís not a secret. Itís just the philosophy behind it. People think differently. I know you have to have a good one, and a great one to win. I think that if you take Carson Palmer, if you protect him, if you upgrade the offensive line ó which I feel like we have. Then you add pieces of the puzzle we didnít have, the speed element. So we have Fitz, Michael Floyd.
[As heís talking, John Brown, the Cardinalsí third-round pick from Pittsburg State, makes a catch.]
And then you add this guy, who catches everything and is off the charts in terms of foot speed, explosiveness, route running. You add Teddy Ginn to the mix. Youíre creating major mismatches, because somebody is going to be on a linebacker.
It seems like you guys are comfortable in the draft with a player like [inside linebacker] Kevin Minter, who might not play much as a rookie because you have talent at that position. Does that worry you when your young guys canít break in right away, or do you just chalk it up to having a front end of the roster?
When youíre a personnel guy, you have to look at the long-term health of your organization. Thereís always a tough balance. Coaches always want to win now. Not that personnel guys donít, but personnel guys look at it from the standpoint that, ďThis guy is going to set us up for the future. This guy is the long-term answer.Ē Itís not just a quick fix with a guy whoís going to make us better right now.
In reality, you tell me, how many guys that you draft are guaranteed to be impact players?
It doesnít happen that often.
Yeah! You want to talk about a humbling exercise. Thatís one thing you need as a personnel guy ó you need humility. You need to have confidence, in believing what youíre seeing. But you also need to grow, and the only way you can grow is to self-evaluate and to have humility and be realistic and say, ďI missed on this guy. Why did I miss?Ē
You build that Rolodex of players over the years, and you can step back and say, ďThis guy reminds me of Jon Beason.Ē This guyís got a chance. Or, ďThis guy reminds me of X player, and he failed. That concerns me. He has the same traits.Ē
Thatís how you grow in this business on the personnel side. If you went and looked at the first-round picks from the past five years, it tells you what an inexact science the NFL draft is. Take the past five years, 2014 to 2010, go down 1-32, and ask, ďIs he a Pro Bowler, is he a starter, is he out of the league?Ē
I equate scouting and personnel to golf. You can get damn good at golf, you can be Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson. And you can always have a bad round, a couple shots you hit in the drink. Itís no different in scouting. You can become one of the best scouts in the NFL, but at the end of the day, youíre going to miss on players because youíre judging the human element.
Thatís what Iíve come away with. When you miss on players, youíre generally missing on the person and the character. The passion and the want-to. Or youíre missing on the ability to comprehend and understand NFL offenses and defenses because theyíre so complex. If you canít learn, and you donít have passion for the game, itís going to weed you out in the end.
Are there one or two traits that you find yourself falling back on a little more now, now that you have a base of knowledge about what types of guys pan out?
Early in my career, I was fixated on size and movement skills and explosiveness. I wanted twitchy athletes. Those are the guys I fell in love with.
I missed on a lot of them. Because at the end of the day, they didnít love it. They werenít passionate. When they couldnít understand and they couldnít learn ó in this day and age, a coach isnít going to put you on the field if they canít trust you. Theyíre going to put in the overachiever with great instincts that understands the game.
Now, I find myself still in love with those guys with great size and movement skills, but at the same time, Iím putting just as much stock in the piece of the puzzle thatís passion, and smarts, and football instincts....
Was that the biggest challenge, going from being a scout in control of your own, small world to the forward-facing side of being in charge?
Hereís the problem: I went from a position where I didnít have to do the administrative duties I have to now. It was a phenomenal job. I looked at all the top players in the country, and I looked at all the guys in free agency. So now, I go into the draft, and Iím still catching up. Weíre starting draft meetings, and Iím getting to guys late.
That has to drive you crazy.
Thatís the no. 1 part that drives me crazy about this job. I want to come out of the fall knowing all the players at Florida State, Tennessee, Georgia, and I canít do it. I cannot do it. Iíd love to get out on the road more, and Iím dying to go to Michigan, to go to Ohio State, NC State to do school calls. But I canít do it. And thatís why you have to trust your scouts. Because when those guys are on those college campuses, and they get the feel from the schools, coaches, thatís how you get the best feel about the players. You see what you do on film, and youíre hearing from these coaches, and youíre talking to them personally. And then Iím seeing this guy practice and watching his practice habits. Thatís the best way to piece together an evaluation....