The final piece of the Arizona Cardinals best offensive line in decades is now gone
Mike Iupati was a big signing for the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. They had signed left tackle Jared Veldheer the season prior and begged starting center Lyle Sendlein to give it a go for one more season.
In 2015, the Cardinals offensive line looked… competent? More than competent, you could even say it looked good.
Bruce Arians coached offensive lines will rarely see high success in things like Pro Football Focus grades because of the stress that is put on them with his deep passing game. However, this unit flourished as run blockers and helped pave the way for the best season of Carson Palmer’s career.
It was the signing of Iupati that put the OL over the top.
Always a rugged and extraordinarily gifted run blocker, Iupati gave the Cardinals a physicality they lacked.
After the NFC Championship game it looked like the Cardinals were on their way to producing more and more along the offensive line. They had two in house replacements for the right side, they had talent and experience on the left side and they had a new anchor at center in A.Q. Shipley.
However, the offensive line began to crumble.
It really started on that day in January, when Lyle Sendlein decided to be done, when Bobby Massie played his last game in a Cardinal uniform, when the staff decided to move on from a strong group and revamp ⅗ of the line.
And, Iupati himself started to falter.
A nagging ankle injury in 2016 caused Iupati to have his worst season as a pro. The end was in sight. However, the Cardinals had no answer in house and Iupati’s desire to play, toughness and money owed in a contract made it nearly impossible to find a replacement in free agency.
They brought Iupati back for 2017 and he lasted a game.
A bone spur in his elbow cost him virtually all of 2017 and made the realization that his career was almost done obvious to everyone. Except the Cardinals.
The Cardinals knew the money was too tight to create another hole on the offensive line that was being rebuilt for the sixth season in a row, so they kept him on, at a massively reduced salary, plus being able to void his final season in 2019.
The writing was on the wall, but Iupati played extremely well in the preseason.
He was finally healthy and rested, he was getting back to what he does best, run blocking and maybe he could be the veteran anchor the Cardinals desperately needed on the OL.
Then the real season started.
Iupati and the rest of the offensive line, heavily invested in through the draft and free agency, were awful to start the season.
It was a problem that took over eight weeks to rectify, but it began too.
Iupati was graded by PFF at 46.7 after three games, one of the worst guards in the NFL. By his final game, he had raised his grade to 62.9 and was ranked 35th in the guard rankings.
Now, he’s likely played his last snap as a Cardinal and the rebuild on the OL will continue for the seventh season in a row.
He was an impressive player to watch, one of my all-time favorite draft prospects and it pained me to see him thrive in San Francisco for so many years.
I hope whatever the future holds for him, he is able to enjoy it.