I am very excited to see what new offensive line coach Ray Brown can do to upgrade and stabilize the Cardinals’ front five.
* G Mike Iupati---he did have 15 starts in 2016, but had the worst year, grade-wise, of his career, particularly in pass protection and he continued to suffer from neck stingers, which appear to be a lingering issue. This past year he came to camp lighter and in good shape, but suffered season ending tricep and elbow injuries. He is due $19.5M over the next two years---the dead cap money on his contract is $3.4M, if he is released.
Decision: The Cardinals have to release him. Perhaps he could agree to a pay cut and be rejuvenated by Ray Brown. Not sure if Iupati would be amenable to that or whether he would just as soon retire.
* T Jared Veldheer---struggled for several games after making the switch to RT. He rebounded to have a couple good games at RT before switching back to LT where he was solid until he cracked his ankle and was lost for the last 3 games. He says he is eager to play again this year and shrugs off the day off he took during training camp to contemplate retirement. He is in the last year of his contract and this year he counts $10.2M on the cap. The dead cap money if the Cardinals release him is $3.25M.
Decision: Unless he is willing to take a reasonable pay cut, the Cardinals have to release him. The fact is, Veldheer has landed on season ending IR the past two seasons and has missed 11 games. His play has steadily regressed, although he rallied up before getting injured last year.
* C A.Q. Shipley---his situation is perhaps the most difficult for Steve Keim to address. Shipley has been a stalwart at C the past few years, staring all 32 games the past two seasons. While he shown strong leadership and has played through core injuries, he graded out as the #28 C this year at 45.8. Was ranked the #32 C in run blocking at 42.6 and the #15 C in pass pro at 70.6. With the Cardinals looking to emphasize running the football, Shipley lacks the athleticism and the power to be consistently effective.
Decision: The Cardinals have to release him. They can add $1.7M to the cap after absorbing only $362K in dead money on his deal.
* G Alex Boone---he is a UFA and is coming off a highly inconsistent year, actually let’s call it what is was, it was a poor year. His PFF grades: Overall---39.5 (#66G). Run blocking---35.1 (#71G). Pass blocking---47.2 (#48G). Boone had some very good moments, particularly in opening holes near the goal line on combo blocks. But, he’s turning 31 this year and the level of his play has been steadily declining.
Decision: Move on.
Free Agency: What the Cardinals Should Do (imo)
With the releases of Iupati, Veldheer and Shipley the Cardinals would recover $6.3M + $6.9M + $1.7M = $14.9M on the 2018 cap.
While the temptation to try and sign All Pro LG Andrew Norwell (Panthers) would be great---Norwell is projected to make $12M a year and at that price tag the Cardinals would limit their ability to upgrade the OL across the board.
Therefore---how about using the $14.9M to add 3 UFAs:
1. LG Josh Sitton (31)---played through a bad ankle last year and still graded as the #5G at 86.0, per PFF. He says he still have a few prime years left. The Bears felt that $8M was too much. Chances are, Sitton could be signed for $5.6M a year on a 3 year deal.
2. RT Chris Hubbard (26)---he was the Steelers’ prize utility T/G who many feel can be one of the better RTs in the NFL. A three year deal in the neighborhood of $6.2M a year should get it done.
3. RG Senio Kelemete (27)---he was the Saints’ prize utility T/G who filled in admirably at guard and at LT when Andrus Peat was injured. Kelemete also could play center, if need be, he is that versatile. Paying him on a 3 year deal worth $3.1M a year would likely seal the deal.
Other UFAs to consider:
G Jack Mewhort (26-Colts)---solid player, good run blocker, but has missed 17 games in recent years.
G Josh Kline (28-Titans)---solid grades at RG.
G Zach Fulton (26-Chiefs)---again, solid starter.
C Weston Richburg (26-Giants)---talented, athletic C who is coming off concussion ending season.
C Spencer Long (27-Redskins)---could be a steal, just coming into his own.
LT D.J. Humphries---injuries remain a concern and have hampered what has appeared to be DJH’s steady and impressive development.
T/G John Wetzel (ERFA)---has started 17 games the past two seasons at LT, RT and RG. Moves the pile in the running game, excellent downfield blocker on screens and draws. Starting to show better hand placement and steering ability in pass pro.
T/G Will Holden---2017 5th round pick started the last 3 games at LT and showed flashes of promise. Needs to add strength and better technique in run blocking and better footwork in pass pro.
C/G Evan Boehm---2016 4th round pick, started at RG early in the season, but struggled and then returned to action late due to injuries. Has yet to be tried at center, his natural position. Plays with good strength and leverage, but needs to improve his footwork.
C/G Daniel Munyer---coaches really liked what they saw from him in the pre-season. Has the athleticism and footwork to be an effective pivot, although he lacks ideal size.
C/G Max Tuerk---former Chargers’ 2016 3rd round pick (taken by Mike McCoy) who is angular and athletic. Needs to add muscle weight.
G/T Earl Watford (UFA)---could once again be a valuable utility G/T if they re-sign him at or near the veteran minimum.
Signing Andrew Norwell:
if the Cardinals decide they want the All Pro LG to be the leader of a revamped line, then it would makes sense to add a couple of good OL in the draft such as:
Tackles (top 6 on Mel Kiper’s big board):
1. *Kolton Miller, UCLA
2. *Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
3. Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
4. *Connor Williams, Texas
5. *Geron Christian, Louisville
6. Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
1. *Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
2. Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
3. Austin Corbett, Nevada
4. Will Hernandez, UTEP
5. Braden Smith, Auburn
6. *Sam Jones, Arizona State
1. *James Daniels, Iowa
2. Billy Price, Ohio State
3. Frank Ragnow, Arkansas
4. Mason Cole, Michigan
5. *Will Clapp, LSU
6. Scott Quessenberry, UCLA
This is a deep draft for offensive linemen. The Cardinals could draft one or two immediate starters. My favorites are: G Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame), T Mike McGlinchy (Notre Dame), G/C Isaiah Wynn (Georgia), C James Daniels (iowa); G Will Hernandez (UTEP), C Billy Price (Ohio St.), C Frank Ragnow (Arkansas) and T Martinas Rankin (Mississippi St.).
While the Cardinals will likely draft a QB in round 1, being able to use of the their 3 Day 2 picks on one of the following would be fantastic: Wynn, Daniels, Hernandez, Price, Ragnow and Rankin. In my opinion, all of the players are high potential plug and play starters.