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Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim explains offseason process

In a radio interview Friday morning, Arizona Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim offered his thoughts on the team's offseason progress thus far and explained what he's doing to prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft.

The NFL attempts to and largely succeeds at dominating the news cycle for the greater portion of the calendar, but the weeks following the Super Bowl are often the quietest time around the league.

That's not the case, however, for general managers, scouts and head coaches, who are busy putting together a plan of action for free agency and the NFL Draft.

In an interview Friday morning on the "Doug and Wolf Show" on Arizona Sports 98.7, Arizona Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim went in-depth to explain what the offseason process is like for the Cardinals' front office and how the team is preparing for the coming months. 

"Mostly trying to catch up on tape, particularly the college guys," Keim said when asked about what he's been up to lately. "I have a good handle on free agency, which starts on March 9 and have an understanding of all the available unrestricted free agents by position so now it's really trying to catch up on the college game and getting prepared for the combine in Indianapolis."

Last offseason, Keim made one of the defining transactions of his tenure, trading the Cardinals' second round draft pick in exchange for New England Patriots' pass-rusher Chandler Jones. Keim said that in February, there isn't much chatter regarding potential trade opportunities, but once free agency rolls around in early March, conversations generally escalate.

"Not quite this early, there is a little bit of chatter, but not quite as much as there is generally when you approach free agency," Keim said. "The start of the new league year, which is March 9, that's when those conversations pick up generally."

Free agency begins March 9, and though that portion of the calendar will be a significant emphasis for Keim, given the long list of players the Cardinals hope to secure extensions with, Keim also talked about another marquee part of the NFL offseason Friday.

Prior to free agency, the NFL hosts its Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where 350 college players come to perform in front of and interview with team personnel. The Cardinals' trip to the combine is now less than two weeks away, and Keim said the organization will take somewhere between 50-55 members to evaluate potential draft picks.

The Cardinals' brass attending the combine includes coaches, scouts, trainers and team medical staff. 

"It's so imperative to get to know these young men as people nowadays," Keim said. "It's one thing to see the skill set on tape, but to be able to get to know the player and person is such a critical piece of the puzzle. When we go to Indianapolis, I think the two most important things are the interviews at night and the medical information that we get. Because evaluations are really like a pie and there are different pieces of the pie that are important. There's no doubt that the evaluation on tape is so critical to see the guy's skill set, to see his movement skills, but at the end of the day, as we've talked about many times, the things we generally miss on is the heart and the mind and that's when you get to know the player and the person."

Keim said one of the interesting nuances the Cardinals will deal with this offseason is how the team plans to build its depth around quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who recently announced their respective returns to the organization for the 2017 season. 

Both Palmer and Fitzgerald are well into their second decade in the NFL, but Keim said it's imperative to build the Cardinals' roster to make it as competitive as possible in the short term while still keeping an eye on the future. 

"There are guys like Carson and Larry that you know that the end is sooner rather than later, so you have to try to build around them and try to, so to speak, go for it now," Keim said. "But that's our mindset every year. We're never going to feel like we're in a rebuilding phase. To me, you owe it to your fanbase to go for it every year, to be aggressive whether it's in free agency or the draft. But you also have to keep in mind that you're going to do the right thing for the organization long-term."

One way the Cardinals may keep the long-term goals of the franchise intact this offseason is by pursuing a potential quarterback of the future through the draft, despite having Palmer under contract through the 2018 season.

Keim has been outspoken in recent weeks, acknowledging that at some point during a general manager's tenure, each decision-maker has to hang their hat on their ability to evaluate quarterbacks. With that in mind plus Palmer's age becoming a factor, Keim knows the 2017 offseason could be the year the Cardinals opt to draft a quarterback early and begin grooming that player to take over when Palmer eventually does retire. 

"As I've said many times, there's probably seven great quarterbacks, 10 you can win with in the NFL and everybody else is playing musical chairs," Keim said. "So we have to challenge ourselves as evaluators, as coaches, as an organization, to find the next guy."

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