Perhaps one of the biggest offseason needs this year will be at the ends of the offensive line. The Cardinals have been projected to select a tackle with the 26th overall pick of the NFL draft to solidify a need they've had for quite some time. How far the Cardinals willing to go to fix their offensive line issues is a question most fans have asked. A case can be made for the depth they already have. Hermon Johnson could make the switch to tackle if needed, but it's unlikely. Brandon Keith is young and has been rumored to start at right tackle next season with Levi moving to the left side. Let's take a look at the Cardinals offensive tackle situation.
As something new, I'll be adding player season grades in each State of the Roster segment.
Age and 2009 Stats: 31-years old (01/03/1979) - 8 sacks allowed(42.5 yds), 8 pen(70 yds)
Contract Status: 2010 Free Agent
2009 Analysis: Mike Gandy was originally signed as a stopgap but at the age of 31, he's become a liability on offense. This past year, Gandy faced his share of injuries, and ended his final year on the injured reserve. He has also struggled against the better pass rushers in the league, with the Super Bowl coming to mind. He allowed eight sacks in just twelve games, while also committing eight penalties with five being holding calls.
2010 Outlook: Gandy's end in Arizona seems inevitable. He's set to become a free agent and all reports point to the 31-year old veteran walking away from the team. At his age and current health risk, Gandy will likely be signed as a back up for another team.
Season Grade: D
Age and 2009 Stats: 25-years old (03/16/1984) - 7 sacks allowed(58 yds), 10 pen(66 yds)
Contract Status: Signed through 2012
2009 Analysis: Brown - the former fifth overall pick - finished his third season with the Cardinals allowing seven sacks. Although the number may seem high, in the previous two seasons Brown allowed a combined 19 sacks. He struggled at times throughout the year with pass protection and most Cardinal fans aren't sure if he'll ever live up to the expectations. Where he was successful however, was run-support. To Cardinal fan's demise, Brown was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate at right tackle, largely because of the Cardinals success running the ball. Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower both combined for 385 rushing yards and six touchdowns running behind the right side of the line.
2010 Outlook: At the moment, Brown's future at tackle may be up in the air. Ken Whisenhunt reportedly entertained the idea of Brown making the switch to offensive guard, or even left tackle, but moving Brown leaves a glaring hole at the right tackle position. If Brown were to play guard, It would also mean that Deuce Lutui or Reggie Wells would be out of the equation. Either way, Brown will be the starter on the Cardinals offensive line for some time.
Season Grade: C+
Age and 2009 Stats: 29-years old (04/19/1980) - 2 sacks allowed(9 yds), 2 pen(25 yds)
Contract Status: 2010 Free Agent
2009 Analysis: After being brought in for offensive line depth last offseason, Jeremy Bridges didn't see much playing time until Mike Gandy left early against the Tennessee Titans. Against the Vikings in Bridges first start, he performed admirably against one of the better defensive ends in the league in Jared Allen. After Gandy was added to the injured reserve, Bridges was the full time starter at left tackle. Being nothing more then a back up, Bridges production at the end of the season and the playoffs was successful, but he'll need to improve if he wants to compete for a starting role next season.
2010 Outlook: Right now Bridges is set to become a free agent, and if he's re-signed, he is the heir to replace Mike Gandy. The Cardinals are still expected to pursue other options via free agency or the draft however. Should they find another starter, Bridges could revert back to his lesser role as a back up, or find work elsewhere.
Season Grade: B-
Age and 2009 Stats: 25 (11/21/1984)
Contract Status: Signed through 2010
2009 Analysis: Keith didn't see any action during the regular season, so it's hard to evaluate his 2009 production, however, coaches were impressed by his play in training camp and preseason.
2010 Outlook: If the Cardinals don't sign any additional tackles in the offseason, Keith is expected to compete with Bridges for the starting left tackle position. Keith will be in his third season and has had plenty of time to develop and learn from the sidelines.
2009 Grade: N/A
Possible Free Agents
- Jammal Brown - Brown missed most of the season for the New Orleans Saints, but before he faced injury, he was a Pro Bowler. He's only 29 and can bring both dominant run and pass blocking as long as he stays healthy.
- Jermon Bushrod - Bushrod was Brown's replacement for the year and filled in tremendously. He kept Drew Brees upright for most of the season and was a pivotal force in the running game. He's 26 and still has some learning to do however. I'm listed both because the Saints will likely have to make a decision on one of these tackles.
- Marcus McNeill - McNeill is restricted but he'll likely be looking for a bigger payday then what he's been used to(rookie contract). His past season wasn't as productive as previous years but he's till an above average tackle that has upside.
In all honesty, the Cardinals will likely sign a tackle in April's draft. The free agency pool doesn't look promising and the Cardinals won't be ready to dish out money if it's not to one of their own. What are your thoughts on the tackle position and how can the Cardinals fix the situation?