Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports

Keim talks Cardinals' mindset at NFL Combine

Arizona Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim spoke at the NFL Combine Wednesday and reflected on the challenges the organization will face in free agency and in this year's NFL Draft.

DeShone Kizer, Deshaun Watson and Mitch Trubisky are three of the draft-eligible signal-callers ready to showcase their skills and find a new home this spring. 

The Arizona Cardinals are one of the many teams in the NFL looking for their next quarterback, as the organization knows starter Carson Palmer is coming to the tail-end of his career.

Is there a match to be had between the Cardinals and one member of the trio of passers likely to hear their name called in the first round of the NFL Draft this April? Perhaps, but according to Arizona general manager Steve Keim, the Cardinals must be absolutely confident if they pull the trigger on a quarterback with the 13th overall pick in this year's draft.

"We know it's a quarterback-driven league, and at the end of the day, and I've said this many times, you can't force the pick either," Keim said Wednesday in Indianapolis. "You've got to really like what you see on tape, off the field, because if you take a quarterback high and he doesn't pan out, it's going to set you back for years. Because you have to give him time to develop, you have to give him a chance. So if you miss and you miss high, it's going to cost you."

On Wednesday, Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians talked about evaluating quarterbacks and said there's already five-to-six passers that stand out to him in this year's draft. The next step of the process, Arians said, is determining which players have the heart and minds to lead an NFL franchise.

Together, Keim and Arians have acknowledged that this could be the year they stake their reputation as quarterback scouts to Palmer's eventual successor. However, Keim has been cautious in warning about the detriments of missing on a quarterback early in the draft, and if the player the Cardinals want isn't available, it's unlikely Arizona will go after a signal-caller in the first round.

Though this week's NFL Combine in Indianapolis is set up for NFL teams to learn about a player's height, weight, speed, agility and more, it's just as important for teams to take advantage of the opportunity to meet with and develop a reputation with various prospects. 

According to Keim, Arizona's front office is much more likely to miss on evaluating a player's mental traits than it is to miss on its evaluation of a player from a physical standpoint.

"In today's day and age, and I've said this many times, we miss more on the person than we do on the player," Keim said. "So we see the physical traits that a guy has that is the easiest part of the process, but it's hard to judge the heart and the mind, the things that really matter. The passion for the game, the ability to process, the ability to think quickly on your feet, it's all part of the game."

Before navigating the challenges of the NFL Draft, though, Arizona must work its way through free agency, where the Cardinals are steering their ship with a tight salary cap.

Both Keim and Arians have acknowledged that Arizona may lose key assets like defensive tackle Calais Campbell and safety Tony Jefferson in free agency, and Keim said Wednesday that doesn't make the job any easier.

"You get in the business so emotionally attached to these guys when they've been on your roster for X amount of years," Keim said. "Whether you drafted them, signed them as a college free agent, so to have a situation where you could potentially lose some players, it's a tough part of the business. We all understand that the salary cap and the situation that we're in, it's a big piece of the pie and there's only so many slices to go around. When you look at different players, we'd obviously like to have all of those guys back. But the reality is there's some tough decisions to be made and that's why you have to continually draft well and develop young guys."

One of the ways Arizona prioritizes players is determining which free agents are available at positions that are difficult to load up on depth at, and which players have rare skill sets that aren't easily replaced. 

Keim said finding left tackles, pass rushers, cornerbacks and quarterbacks will always be his priority, and that's been reflected in the way the Cardinals roster is constructed.

"Left tackle, pass rusher, corner, quarterback, those guys are so hard to find that when you're allocating your money and you're looking at the big picture, like I talked about earlier, you have that pie, how are you going to divide that money up. If you're going to go and spend excess money, you spend it on the guys that are hard to find."


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