Our 'State of the Roster' breakdowns shifts from the defensive side of the ball to offensive side and we'll start deep, deep in the trenches with the pivot man. The Arizona Cardinals opened camp with a veteran starter who was recovering from off season surgery and an undrafted player entering his second season after a promising rookie season. As we all remember though, Al Johnson needed yet another surgery and was placed on IR before the season even started. Questions abounded whether or not Lyle Sendlein was ready to become the starter but how did things turn out?
Disclaimer: The very last thing you'll ever hear me claim is that I'm well versed at scouting offensive lineman. I watch the games like everyone else, and will try to keep a close eye in the trenches at times, but feel free to weigh in with your analysis or arguments.
Age and 2008 Stats: 24 years old (3/16/84) - 1 False Start, 1 Hold, 1/2 Sack Allowed, 16 games (16 starts)
Contract Status: Exclusive Rights Free Agent
2008 Analysis: Sendlein was tagged as the center of the future heading into the season but before camp ended, he became the center of right now. Al Johnson never recovered from off season knee surgery and Sendlein started every game from the preseason opener to the Super Bowl. He's was great in his first season as a starter but you can see why the coaching staff was raving about this undrafted rookie out of Texas last year. He had problems with big, physical nose tackles for most of the season and he isn't the best in-line blocker but he's mobile and excels at getting to the second level. He's quick enough to be a factor on screen passes and draws as well.
2009 Outlook: Sendlien will no doubt be resigned in the off season and he length of his contract should tell us how the coaching staff views his future. He still needs to add some weight to his frame (6'2 300) and get stronger to handle the bigger defensive tackles, but he should open training camp as the starter. As young as he is, he should still be getting better with every game.
Age and 2008 Starts: 30 years old (11/23/78) - 0 games
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2009 Outlook: Peters is a 30 year player who hasn't played in an NFL game since 2003 and has only been in seven games in his entire career. I highly doubt the Cardinals bring him back and I'd be surprised if he's in anyone's camp next August.
Age and 2008 Starts: 25 years old (3/16/83) (huh same day as Sendlein) - 0 games
Contract Status: Exclusive Rights Free Agent
2008 Analysis: Luckily Sendlein stayed healthy and Ross stayed on the sidelines. He didn't appear in a single game after being claimed from the Panthers after Peters went down. It's not clear whether Ross would have played if Sendlein had been hurt sometime during the season. Reggie Wells and Elton Brown both took snaps at center at various times during camp so Ross might have actually been third or fourth on the depth chart.
2009 Outlook: Ross' future is most likely tied to whether or not the Cardinals draft or sign a sign a center this off season. He's young but hasn't ever played in a NFL game since being undrafted in 2006. He'll most likely be in camp come August but I'd have think they'll bring in someone who is at least capable of starting in case Sendlein were to go down with an injury.
Overview and Needs: Sendlein stepped in and did an admirable job in 2008, but it'll be interesting to see if the front office tries to upgrade at center. Some consider Sendlein to be a young star in the making who should be bargain for at least the next several years (in fact our very own Boogatt might just be the founder and president of his fan club). Others still consider him just an undersized backup who will always struggle at the point of attack. At the very least, depth is a serious issue and someone will have to be drafted or signed to provide some insurance in case Sendlein gets injured. With that in mind, here is a wildly attractive crop of free agent centers:
- Jason Brown - Brown is at the top of a great free agent class of centers and is considered one of the best young centers in the game today. The 25 year old has tremendous size (6'3 320), tons of experience (45 career starts) and a mean streak that served him well in Baltimore. Brown should hit the open market considering all of the big-name free agents for the Ravens this year and he'll get a big time contract.
- Jeff Saturday - The wily veteran is getting up there in age (33 years old) but the Indy offense really struggled when he wasn't anchoring the middle of their offensive line. With 140 career starts and three All-Pro selections he's seen it all, and even though he's not very big (6'2 295) he's always had the strength to handle even the biggest defensive tackles. Whatever contract offers he receives will be for just a year or two but it'll still be a decent number per season.
- Matt Birk - Birk's another veteran (32 years old) who knows how to get the job done with six Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro Selections. He excels when pulling and has good size (6'4 309) to hold his own at the point of attack. The Vikings aren't expected to make much of a push to resign Birk and being the third option in free agency could drive down his asking price.
Brad Meester - There's a pretty significant drop off from third to fourth on this list and Meester comes in fourth. He's another veteran (31) but he's had problem staying healthy, missing at least four games in three of the past four years. When healthy he's a quality center and despite some size concerns (6'3 295) has always been pretty decent holding his ground.
Geoff Hangartner - If you don't think the Cardinals are going to be in the market for a 'big name' then Hangartner might be your guy. He's still young (26), has some starting experience (27 in four years) and has the versatility to play multiple positions. The Panthers are expected to make an effort to resign him, so the Cardinals might have to pay him starters money.
- Duke Preston - There's another significant drop off to Preston and it might say something that the Bills don't want him back but center is one of their biggest needs this off season. Still though he's young (26) and versatile enough to play all three inside position. He won the starting job midway through their season and plays with a ton of passion but simply doesn't get the job done on a consistent basis (sounds like a poor man's Lutui if you ask me).
There you have it, center is a position of need (at least for depth) and there is a laundry list of quality centers on the market and this is a great year for centers in the draft. In fact Darren Urban posted a story today about a center that many people think the Cardinals will target in the first round, Alex Mack. First things first though, how do you feel about Sendlein as a starter both in 2009 and the future? How high on the 'needs list' would you rank the pivot position? Would you want a free agent splash at center or would you rather wait and get a big name defensive player?