Arizona Cardinals left tackle Jared Veldheer this week was named the team’s most valuable player for the 2014 season based on his display of toughness on the field and his prowess in protecting myriad quarterbacks.
Jared Veldheer was named the team’s MVP in 2014. The award is named after Lloyd Herberg, who covered the Cardinals for The Arizona Republic.
— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) January 1, 2015
When you consider four different signal callers took snaps under center this season for the playoff-bound Cardinals, your first thought could be the offensive line struggled to protect its passers and therefore was the reason so many injuries occurred.
That isn’t the case with the 2014 Cardinals -- especially not with Veldheer.
He was one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL all season, allowing only one sack and 25 total pressures in 611 pass-blocking snaps. His 24.44 pass-block snaps per pressure allowed this season put him fifth-best among tackles who played at least 500 snaps in the passing game.
Among the four players ahead of him, Joe Thomas and Jason Peters made the Pro Bowl this season and have a combined 15 selections to the game between them.
Veldheer won’t be there this season despite being worthy of the vote, but that’s not what is important. What is important is the fact he and his offensive line allowed only 28 sacks this season, down from 41 a year ago.
Much of the decline in sacks allowed can be directly attributed to the addition of Veldheer by general manager Steve Keim. At the press conference introducing his new behemoth left tackle, Keim told reporters Veldheer "has incredible work ethic and tangibles, and [is] the right kind of guy that [head coach] Bruce [Arians] and I felt fit what we’re trying to accomplish here."
What Veldheer accomplished this season is shaving 10 sacks off last season’s total from Cardinals left tackles. Levi Brown and Bradley Sowell allowed 11 in 16 games last season, which was an improvement over that which protected the blind side the previous season.
The 2012 season, of course, was former head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s last in Arizona. That year, D’Anthony Batiste and Nate Potter combined to allow a staggering 19 sacks of four Cardinals quarterbacks. To put into perspective how bad that is and how good the current left tackle is, Veldheer has allowed 19 sacks in his entire career, which dates back to 2010 while with the Oakland Raiders.
Here’s more perspective on what Veldheer has done for the Cardinals this season. We line up his pressures allowed numbers next to the team totals from the past four seasons at left tackle:
And here are his career numbers compared with Arizona’s left tackles from 2010 through 2013. Keep in mind Veldheer has five accumulated seasons of statistics below, while we're counting only the four seasons of stats for the Cardinals before he arrived in Arizona:
|Cardinals LT, 2010-2013
Having a stalwart at left tackle this season has allowed Arians to use his entire playbook no matter who has been under center. The only sack Veldheer allowed came late in a Week 5 loss at Denver when Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware beat him around the edge and brought down rookie Logan Thomas.
Here is a list of pass-rushers Veldheer shut out in 2014. These players combined for 66 sacks this season, an average of 6.6 sacks per player:
- Jason Pierre-Paul
- Khalil Mack
- Trent Cole
- Robert Quinn (twice)
- Ziggy Ansah
- Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett (twice)
- Tamba Hali
- Justin Smith (twice)
- Aldon Smith
Not to be overlooked, Veldheer’s presence in the run game has been a positive as well. He’s so big and moves so well that when he gets to the second level of the defense to take on a linebacker, that defender can count himself out of the play because he has next to no chance of overtaking the 6’8", 320-pound monster in front of him.
But Veldheer was brought in to protect the passer, and he has another test on Saturday in his first career playoff game.
Rookie second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, defensive end Kony Ealy, has come on of late, recording a sack in each of the Panthers’ final three games to end the regular season. A third of his total pressures this season came in his last three games.
Veldheer was an easy choice for team MVP. The work he did on the field speaks for itself, and it is that which Keim and Arians saw from his time in Oakland that made the decision to sign the left tackle to a five-year, $35 million deal this offseason an easy one.
He is well on his way to earning every cent of that deal and then some. At just 27 years old, he still has four years left on the contract after this season. If he remains healthy, he could be in Arizona for those years and more. It’s not crazy to think he could potentially sign a four- or five-year extension toward the end of his current contract.
Arizona has the pillar it needed in place, and around that pillar it can begin building a fortress -- an impenetrable wall behind which quarterback Carson Palmer (or whomever) can sit and throw to talented receivers for years to come. Veldheer was the perfect fit in Arians’ offense. That was made clear when he was voted as the team’s MVP.
There was really no other choice; that’s how good he was in 2014.