My least favorite type of general manager is one who loves to pull off perpetual trades for star (or even solid) players and give you the occasional blockbuster free agent signing at the expense of draft picks. While this strategy can certainly turn your team into a contender, it’s often done so by sacrificing the possibility for long-term success. Overall, it’s a poor strategy and it’s one that ultimately led former Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim to his resignation.
Enter Monti Ossenfort, who was tasked with the thankless job of fixing Keim’s mistakes, something that not even the greatest executives in NFL history can probably pull off in just a single season. So this past March, instead of going out and signing highly-coveted free agents despite the amount of cap space he had, Ossenfort primarily opted for lower-priced players.
The gamble, obviously, was that if Ossenfort went the way of his predecessor, he too would be putting the team at risk of signing overpriced free agents on the back-end of their respective primes. There was also the risk of bringing someone in who put up solid-to-spectacular numbers elsewhere, only to discover they may not be a very good fit for the new systems in the desert.
Remember when Keim signed Jordan Phillips and Devon Kennard a few years back? Phillips was coming off of an excellent season and Kennard was solid in his previous stop, and neither made even the slightest impact for the Redbirds.
Between 2006 and 2019, Ossenfort worked under New England Patriots head coach slash general manager Bill Belichick, who turned the team into a dynasty. While Belichick pulled off the occasional blockbuster, he was also a master of acquiring players with marginal (at best) production if he felt they had the potential to be a good fit for his system either through the draft or searching for overlooked talent, something he still does to this day.
Arizona Cardinals GM opted for a strategy of an old mentor
Think about their running backs, for example, throughout the years, and you will find that very few of them were household names. Ditto for their receivers, as this is a guy who helped turn the likes of Julian Edelman and Wes Welker, among others, into top-end talent, and the list is far from over. Rob Ninkovich bounced back and forth between two teams, undrafted free agent Brandon Bolden had his best years in New England, and Ted Karras proved to be a gem.
Ossenfort is following a similar blueprint in the desert as Belichick. Besides focusing primarily on the NFL Draft to acquire talent, he also signed a plethora of marginal players or those with adequate but unspectacular production to short deals, seeing if they can stick. He was also active on the waiver wire, and most of those pickups are on the 53-man roster heading into Week 3.
Belichick didn’t often care what you did in your previous stops, and he probably still doesn’t. He only cared about whether a player fit his system, and if so, could they thrive in that system.
Many of the no-names who Ossenfort acquired one way or another won’t be with the Arizona Cardinals long. But if he brings in a good dozen players a year that he feels might be good fits, and only three of them become viable role players or starters, that builds over time, and it won’t break the bank in the long-run.
It’s definitely a longer approach, but it’s also the right approach, because Steve Keim’s method was an obvious failure. Fortunately for Ossenfort, he learned from the best in the business, and his way has much better odds of turning the Cards into contenders a few years down the road.