Arizona Cardinals could be right in retaining own free agents

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) James Conner
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) James Conner /

The Arizona Cardinals saw two of their biggest free agents sign with other NFL franchises this offseason in Chandler Jones and Christian Kirk. 

Despite seeing Chandler Jones and Christian Kirk continue their NFL careers elsewhere, the Arizona Cardinals went the smart route so far in free agency. They retained many of their own players.

And while the Cardinals embarked on an epic collapse last season, this core of returning players still helped them steamroll to a 7-0 start and earn their first playoff berth since 2015. So it makes sense to keep their own players in-house.

This is a stark contrast from last season when the Cardinals made a splash by bringing in J.J. Watt and about a half-dozen seasoned veterans. Key chess pieces like James Conner, Zach Ertz, Andy Lee, Dennis Gardeck, and Maxx Williams are all returning in 2022. And with little roster turnover, it should put Cardinals fans at ease.

But there is still one major caveat, and that is the fact that Steve Keim has a spotty track record in the NFL Draft.

Arizona Cardinals need to have a good 2022 NFL Draft

Clearly, the Cardinals are looking to acquire new talent through the NFL Draft. Which would be a no-brainer if Keim could figure out how to draft talent ready to make an immediate impact. Especially at receiver, defensive tackle, and corner.

You can argue Kyler Murray is Keim’s best-ever draft pick. But Murray, a former top-overall selection, just saw his 2020 contemporary, Joe Burrow, lead the longshot Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl, complete with an abysmal offensive line.

Yeah, Murray has been to two Pro Bowls. Except he has never thrown over 26 touchdown passes in a single season. He’s a dual-threat quarterback with spotty throwing mechanics. So unless he improves in Year 4, he’s another underachieving first-round pick from Steve Keim.

Last season, Keim wasted a pick on linebacker Zaven Collins. And even if Collins produces in Year 2, he wasn’t exactly a team need until this offseason when the Cardinals let leading tackler Jordan Hicks go for nothing. Now, the Cardinals have no choice but to find out whether Collins sinks or swims.

The ideal scenario? Keim learns from his mistakes and drafts a big-name receiver, a serviceable corner, and a monster of a defensive tackle. A speedy running back would be nice, plus some offensive linemen in the middle rounds. But Keim needs to learn how to address need over glamor.

He didn’t do it the last two seasons when he drafted Collins and Isaiah Simmons. But if the Cardinals have any hope to return to the playoffs in 2022, Keim needs to nail the draft. And to do that, he needs to draft players the Cardinals can insert on Day One.

So yeah, it’s smart to keep one’s own free agents to prevent roster turbulence. It’s even smarter to build through the draft than to rely on aging veterans, which appeared to be the strategy last season. But this strategy will only work if Keim starts pulling Kevin Colberts and stops pulling Matt Millens.

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