When it comes to the NFL Draft, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill likes to ask 'What if?'

Kent Somers
Arizona Republic
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Michael Bidwill is a hands-on owner, but his fingerprints aren’t all over the Cardinals' draft process.

If you’ve followed many Cardinals' drafts, that might be a surprise.

Over the years, fans have grown accustomed to seeing Bidwill with Cardinals general managers and coaches during the draft. And we’ve seen videos and read stories of him traveling to interview top prospects, or meeting with them on visits to Arizona.

But current general manager Steve Keim, and two former high-ranking Cardinals officials, said Bidwill pretty much leaves it up to his football people to choose the team’s newest players.

“It’s not like he’s looking at the players and evaluating them,” Keim said, “but at the same time he’s asking the right questions: ‘Why do we have this guy over that guy?’ Or 'Would you consider trading here?’ It creates a checks and balances system, which I like.”

The eyes of skeptics are sure to roll after reading that, and I get it. Keim works for Bidwill and just received a contract extension through 2027. What did you think he would say? And it’s true that Bidwill is known to micromanage other departments of his team, so why should we believe he’s not telling Keim what player they should take at No. 23 on Thursday, the first day of the draft?

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August 13, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Cardinals' president Michael Bidwill (L) and general manager Steve Keim come onto the field before a game against the Cowboys at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

But the two former officials, who preferred to remain anonymous, said much the same thing as Keim. Bidwill is interested in the draft, especially the higher picks who command bigger contracts, they said, but doesn’t pretend to know what separates the second-ranked edge rusher from the third.

Keim leads the process of building the team’s draft board, and Bidwill doesn’t participate in that process.

“I might stop up and say hello from time to time,” Bidwill said late last week. “This year I’ve been slammed and haven’t had a chance to do that.”

Like most teams, the Cardinals compile their “120 board,” of the top 120 prospects in the draft.

“I don’t think it’s been 120 a single time,” Bidwill said. “It’s always like 135 and I think this year it’s going to even be longer.”

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Bidwill isn’t popping into the draft room during the process and asking why scouts like the 75th-ranked player more than the 76th. His main input comes after the board has been completed. That’s when Bidwill meets with Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury and starts asking the questions Keim referred to.

“I basically do the ‘what ifs,’” Bidwill said. “They say, ‘we think this group of players will be here.’ OK, what if they’re not? Do we want a different player? Do we want to move back? Do we move up for a player we covet? How much is it going to cost us (in trade)?

“What I call it is scrimmaging it out with them, making us think through some of the questions we don’t want to have to think through when we’re two or three picks out and all of a sudden our guy is not there. I try to turn things upside down a little bit and just ask a lot of questions to make us think through things and be prepared.”

Does the process work?

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Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill (left) and General Manager Steve Keim introduce their new head coach Kliff Kingsbury during a press conference on Jan. 9 at the Cardinals Training Facility in Tempe, Ariz.

That’s the important question, and in Keim’s nine years as general manager, the results have been mixed. He’s had some colossal misses. Josh Rosen, Robert Nkemdiche, Jonathan Cooper, Troy Niklas and Andy Isabella come to mind. The last two years, the Cardinals drafted inside linebackers Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons in the first round, and neither has yet made the impact expected.

Keim’s also made some astute picks. Marco Wilson, Kyler Murray, Budda Baker, D.J. Humphries, John Brown and Tyrann Mathieu come to mind. And he used draft picks in trading for difference makers such as Carson Palmer, Chandler Jones, DeAndre Hopkins and Rodney Hudson.

Bidwill must be satisfied because he just signed Keim to a third contract.

Bidwill has been around the draft since he was a kid, and he remembers a time as a college student when he was at the other end of the draft process. Bidwill was the team’s representative at the NFL’s draft headquarters at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. His job was to answer the phone call from Cardinals headquarters in St. Louis, where his father, Bill Bidwill, was, write the name of the draft pick on a card and submit it to league officials.

“I was in college and decided to have a little fun with my father,” he said. “I knew as I was writing down the name on the card that the camera would be on me. So before I left for New York, I went into his closet, grabbed one of his bow ties and wore it.

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Oct 10, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill points towards fans after beating the San Francisco 49ers 17-10 at State Farm Stadium.

“He called me and said, ‘that’s my tie! And I haven’t even worn it yet,’” Bidwill said.

Decades later, Bidwill will still be on the phone during the draft, a hands-on owner welcoming the newest Cardinals to Arizona. 

Reach Kent Somers at Follow him on twitter @kentsomers

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