We wrap up our positional review and outlook on the offensive side of the ball with the offensive line. It is an area in which the Arizona Cardinals have invested a lot of capital over the last couple of years. Let's look back at its performance in 2015 and what is in store in the offseason.
Looking back at 2015
There is no doubt about it -- the line played pretty well, despite the end and despite the grades that sites like Pro Football Focus might have said. The running game improved immensely. They averaged 4.2 yards per carry after being last in 2014 at 3.1. They rushed for more yards than any other season since 1988. They protected Carson Palmer. He was sacked 27 times in the regular season, which was bested by only three other teams. Palmer set passing records. So the line was better.
However, there were disappointments. Jared Veldheer seemed to take a small step back in pass protection. The center and right guard positions were issues late in the season. Jonathan Cooper got benched halfway through the season in favor of Ted Larsen. D.J. Humphries, last year's first round pick, didn't play a down. It was expected, but for many fans, it was viewed as a fail of a pick. Bobby Massie was suspended to start the season and played decently most of the season.
There are several free agents on the offensive line. There promises to be change.
Lyle Sendlein: The center is an unrestricted free agent
A.Q. Shipley: He has one year remaining on his two-year contract. He will make $760K and count $835K against the cap. If cut, he would only count $50K in dead money.
Taylor Boggs: he was signed to a future contract for 2016.
Valerian Ume-Ezeoke: He was signed to a one-year future contract for 2016. The Cards would retain his rights for 2017 if he is on the roster at the end of the season.
Ted Larsen: The 2015 starting right guard is an unrestricted free agent
Mike Iupati: Iupati signed a five-year deal last offseason. He is under contract through 2019. He will earn $4.5 million in salary this coming season and will count $5.7 million against the cap.
Jonathan Cooper: The former number seven overall pick enters the final year of his rookie contract. he is due to make $670,000 in salary and will be paid a roster bonus worth more than $1.7 million. He will count more than $4.6 million against the cap. The Cardinals have until May to exercise his fifth-year option.
Earl Watford: The reserve guard/tackle has one year remaining on his rookie contract. He will earn $675K and count a little less than $784K against the cap.
Antoine McClain: He spend the season on the practice squad and was signed to a one-year future contract.
John Fullington: He spent the season on injured reserve. He is still under contract through next season, earning $525K and the Cards would have exclusive rights after the season is he sticks around.
Bobby Massie: The starting right tackle is a restricted free agent.
Bradley Sowell: The reserve tackle is an unrestricted free agent.
Jared Veldheer: The team's starting left tackle enters Year 3 of his five-year contract. He will earn $6.5 million in 2016 and a $500K roster bonus.
D.J. Humphries: Last year's first year draft pick enters Year 2 of his four-year rookie deal. He will earn a little more than $840K and will count more than $2.02 million against the cap.
Rob Crisp: He began the season on the practice squad and then landed on injured reserve. He signed a one-year future contract for 2016 and he can earn $450K.
John Wetzel: Wetzel spent the season on the practice squad and comes back on a one-year future contract worth $525K.
Edawn Coughman: He joins the team on a one-year future deal. He can earn $450K.
Looking ahead at the offseason:
There should be significant turnover on the offensive line. Most would anticipate that the team's starting center, right guard and right tackle will not return. Bobby Massie is likely going to get a good contract somewhere and the team drafted D.J. Humphries to replace him. Ted Larsen probably won't be back and we don't know what the team's plans are for Lyle Sendlein. Even Bradley Sowell isn't likely to return, although I would never rule him out because the coaching staff apparently loves him.
Are the replacements on the roster for those three starting positions? Perhaps.
Humphries should be ready to step in and start at right tackle. Jonathan Cooper should be ready to be the guy at right guard. Is A.Q. Shipley the guy to start at center? Many expected him to be the guy last year, but Bruce Arians, despite publicly supporting Shipley on multiple occasions and saying he and Sendlein were essentially equal, did bring in Sendlein off the street in camp.
The team does think very highly of the guys they had on the practice squad. Arians told the media after their playoff loss, "The young guys on the practice squad, I think, have really good futures." That probably applies to tackles John Wetzel and Rob Crisp. Crisp was one of their priority undrafted free agents.
Arians did say he likes where his line is. Cooper and Humphries should ideally be able to be good starters.
The center position is one where I anticipate a splash of some sort. General manager Steve Keim has used significant capital for each guard and tackle position. He drafted Jonathan Cooper and D.J. Humphries in the first round and signed Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati to big free agent deals. The center position should come next.
That means we should anticipate a center signing or a high draft pick used at the position.
What should we expect in terms of free agency? They might go after a legitimate starting center in free agency. That's a possibility. What I think is a lock is them signing a guy like Ted Larsen -- a veteran with solid starting experience. He will either be a swing guard/center or swing guard/tackle.
Because of Humphries and Crisp, I do not anticipate them drafting a tackle, although it is always a possibility. A center or a guard or a swing guy...that I can see happening.