Perhaps the Arizona Cardinals' 2017 NFL Draft will be remembered as the year the franchise passed on a quarterback.
Though not everything went according to plan for Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim, aside from failing to select a quarterback of the future, not much went wrong.
If Carson Palmer elects to finish out his contract and play beyond the 2017 season, Keim's draft strategy and the execution of his plan has the potential to be remembered as an impressive display of a general manager who found his sweet spot.
Over the three-day NFL Draft, Keim executed three separate trades that helped Arizona address the vast majority of its team needs and left the Cardinals in a strong position to make another playoff push this season.
On Friday evening, Keim wasted little time working the phone lines, as the Cardinals' general manager executed an early trade with the Chicago Bears to move up nine slots to draft Washington safety Budda Baker. Though Arizona paid a hefty price to grab Baker, they felt a first round talent was still on the board and had enough ammunition to go and select a player who could find himself in a starting role as a rookie.
At 5-foot-10, Baker has explosiveness reminiscent of Cardinals' safety Tyrann Mathieu, and though he doesn't have the ball skills Mathieu does, Baker can provide much needed help in a secondary that lost both of its starting safeties from the 2016 roster.
To draft Baker, Keim surrendered the team's second round pick, fourth round pick, sixth round pick and a 2018 fourth round pick, but he also netted a seventh round pick from Chicago that gave the Cardinals late flexibility. While forfeiting a fourth round pick in back-to-back seasons is a tough pill to swallow for any team, Keim would soon recoup a fourth round pick in another trade. Additionally, because the Cardinals anticipate receiving multiple compensatory selections in next year's draft, losing the 2018 fourth round pick was a small price to pay for Arizona to move up and draft Baker.
When Arizona found itself on the clock in the third round with the 77th overall selection, Keim worked quickly to trade out of the slot and move back. In all likelihood, the Cardinals knew exactly what player they wanted in the third round, and they knew that 21 picks later, the odds were great that he would still be on the board.
To move back from the 77th slot to pick No. 98, Arizona traded with Carolina and acquired the Panthers' fourth round draft choice, which Keim would later use to select Pittsburgh offensive guard Dorian Johnson --considered by many to be a day two talent. Additionally, the man the Cardinals likely wanted all along in the third round, Grambling State wide receiver Chad Williams, was still on the board with the 98th pick, and Arizona pulled the trigger.
Williams has sub 4.4 speed, but wasn't invited to the NFL Combine and played in the SWAC, a small conference that doesn't produce a wealth of NFL talent. By trading back and picking up the fourth round pick it lost in the trade with Chicago, Arizona addressed a need at wide receiver and drafted a guard in Johnson who could compete for a starting job right away.
Entering day three of the draft, Keim was in possession of four picks, including two seventh round draft choices, but didn't feel a need to stay put. Instead of opting to draft two players in the seventh round, Keim traded those selections to Oakland in exchange for a late sixth round pick that would be used to draft Auburn's Johnathan "Rudy" Ford. Though Arizona moved up just 13 slots to take Ford, the Cardinals didn't have a true need to add two players late in the draft, especially because Keim has stocked the roster well over the past few seasons.
Though Arizona paid a stiff price to move up and draft Baker and never wound up selecting a quarterback of the future, the way Keim executed the Cardinals' draft strategy demonstrated he had a clear plan in mind all along. Ultimately, draft day trades netted the Cardinals a potential starting safety in the second round, a small school wide receiver who was available late in the third round, a potential starting offensive lineman who slid to the fourth round and a special teams asset in the sixth round.
While only time will tell if Keim should have devoted his resources to draft a quarterback, every other aspect of the way the Cardinals executed their strategy this weekend suggests Keim made all the right moves.