TEMPE, Ariz. — Following a brief press conference with Cardinals general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians on Wednesday regarding the Levi Brown trade, it was hard to escape this conclusion: After listening to all three men speak about Brown’s performance over the past two weeks, the only one assuming a shred of accountability is Brown.
In just about eight minutes worth of comments, Keim and Arians managed to throw Brown under the bus for undeniably poor play, and then back the bus up just to make sure they had finished the job.
“I don’t think it comes as any surprise that Levi Brown was not living up to our expectations on the field,” said Keim, adding that there had been discussion on the topic since the beginning of the season. “At the end of the day, we felt like it was in the organization’s best interest to move on from Levi. When the opportunity arose with Pittsburgh to make a trade, we jumped at the opportunity.”
The Cardinals traded Brown to the Steelers for a conditional pick. He received a signing bonus of $7 million from the Cardinals and is making $4.75 million in salary this year. For cap purposes, the Cardinals still have to account for $4.2 million of the signing bonus, which would count against next year’s cap.
By making the deal this season, the Cards at least got something in return for Brown, who likely would have been cut after the season. But Arians insisted this move was not about putting the rest of his moribund offense on notice after a dismal two-game road trip.
“No, we’re not into that business,” Arians said. “I don’t go into that kind of stuff. This was a one-time thing with a guy who wasn’t meeting our expectations.”
At the owners’ meetings last offseason, Arians called Brown an “elite” tackle and insisted he was better than his critics imagined. Despite Brown’s struggles in the offseason, Arians maintained that stance throughout OTAs, mini-camp and the preseason, reasoning that Brown was still battling back from a torn triceps tendon that sidelined him for all of the 2012 season.
When asked about the elite comment Wednesday, Arians said that evaluation was based off an Arizona game against New Orleans in 2011 (the Cardinals actually played the Saints in 2010, not 2011).
“The tackle that we evaluated in 2011 against the Saints was a heck of a left tackle,” Arians said. “The tackle that got back isn’t the same guy.”
If it strikes you as odd that a coach is basing his evaluation of a player off one game, three years ago, you’re not alone. But that wasn’t all of the deflecting occurring on Wednesday in Tempe.
Keim was asked if living up to his draft status as the No. 5 pick in 2007 made life hard on Brown, who has been reminded repeatedly that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was taken after him.
“When you look back at some of these high draft picks, they’re under microscopes and the bull’s-eyes are on their chests from day one. When you don’t live up to expectations from day one, that’s a tough pail to carry,” said Keim, who was part of the staff that decided to draft Brown.
“When you look at that draft, it’s not only Adrian Peterson. (49ers linebacker) Patrick Willis was the 11th pick that year and several more great players came out of that first round, and that’s what we talk to our young scouts about to learn from these things and grow and look back and judge yourself — why you missed, how you missed and how you can grow and get better.”
If there was a mention of Keim’s role in Brown’s selection in there, it sure wasn’t obvious. There have been reports that Keim desperately wanted to draft Peterson, not Brown — most of them well after the fact. Maybe that absolves Keim, but how about taking one for the team rather than passing off this mistake on the scouts and former GM Rod Graves?
It would be impossible to argue that Keim’s and Arians’ assessment of Brown is off base. He didn’t come close to warranting his draft status, and the three sacks he allowed the Rams’ Robert Quinn in the season opener made it plain that there is nothing elite about his ability.
To admit that is fair, even if Keim and Arians seemed to go overboard in that regard instead of taking the high road. But to diminish their own role in the process degrades their credibility. And to insist, as both did, that Brown’s replacement, Bradley Sowell, is on par with Brown is also a stretch.
“I don’t think there’s any risk,” Arians said of starting Sowell at left tackle. “The problems that have occurred I don’t think could get any worse. Hopefully, they’re going to get better. I don’t see any drop-off whatsoever or we wouldn’t have made the move.”
Cardinals fans won’t have to look far into the past to know that things can get worse without Brown. They did when D’Anthony Batiste took over last season while Brown was injured and defenses enjoyed a free pass to the quarterbacks. And they could once again with an undrafted free agent manning one of the offense’s two most important positions.
In case you haven’t noticed, the NFL isn’t exactly stocked with good left tackles.
But that narrative didn’t fit the script Wednesday at the team’s practice complex. This was all about assigning blame to a guy who rarely impressed under fire, but always absorbed the blame with grace.