The NFL Combine is coming to a close. On Sunday the most talented Linebackers and
Defensive Line players participated. On Monday the Defensive Backs will take part in a number of drills to increase their draft stock.
While these are all positions the Cardinals will look to address this off-season, they face two more important decisions in the coming weeks. There’s the obvious and biggest decision they face at Quarterback. Will they acquire one through trade? The Draft? Or perhaps will they splash on a guy like Kirk Cousins? This is the gossip period for the NFL, so nothing will be certain until the official announcement is made.
But who exactly will protect our next Quarterback? The Cardinals are well known for their offensive line. To be frank, their well known for how leaky their offensive line has been. Injuries, aging players, and an overall lack of talent has sunk the teams front five. Luckily, Free Agency is nearing. To first determine who we should look at, let’s take a look at what we have on the roster, and what could happen to those players.
As of right now, Shipley does not look like he’s moving. He’s been the teams most consistent and overall best lineman the last few seasons. Max Tuerk was a third round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft for the Los Angeles Chargers. He was released by the team in 2017 after serving a four-game suspension, added to their practice squad, before being taken by the Cardinals. Josh Allen does not appear to be more than an offseason body, but there have been other surprises.
So what do we do about this position? If the Cardinals pursued it in Free Agency, the best available center would be Ryan Jensen. At 27 and having a solid 2017 campaign, Jensen should see offers ranging from $6 to $9 million dollars. But other than Jensen, everyone else would be what we have already, a stop gap center. The best route to take would be in the upcoming draft.
Some names would include Billy Price, who could fall after a pectoral injury at the combine, Isaiah Wynn, or James Daniels.
Alex Boone (UFA)
Earl Watford (UFA)
This is where the Cardinals will be pressed to make some big decisions. Mike Iupati played in only one game in 2017. In three years with the Cardinals, he has not finished a full season. His cap number will be $9.7 million, if he is with the team. The Cardinals could save themselves $6.3 million if they decide to part ways with him. He’s been a popular name coming up as a cap casualty for the Cardinals.
Evan Boehm did not take that next step that many fans thought he might. He struggled in 2017 and was ultimately replaced by the duo of Earl Watford and Will Holden after eight starts. The Center turned Guard gets a fresh start with a new staff, but will he get to start?
Will Holden was actually somewhat surprising. He played decently for a fifth round prospect in his five starts. Obviously there were hiccups and mistakes, that’s only natural, but he looked like a serviceable backup and perhaps could develop into a starter.
Alex Boone and Earl Watford were both in season additions. Both players were asked to start due to injuries. And both did their jobs. Boone is a guy fans would like to keep around, and at 31 years old, the team could retain his services at a reasonable price. As for Watford he could be let to walk as he was a part of the old staff’s draft class.
This is a position the Cardinals could attack via Free Agency or wait until April. The Free Agent group is headlined by Justin Pugh and Andrew Norwell. Norwell’s name will be attached to Arizona thanks to the hiring of Steve Wilks and him bringing Ray Brown from Carolina. He’s one of the top guards in the league, and will command premier money, so anywhere $8-$12 million.
The Draft will be littered with good guard talents. Quenton Nelson headlines that group, but unless something happens between now and April 26th, the Cardinals will be too late to grab him, Will Hernandez will be another name to keep an eye on as the draft process moves forward.
The position with the biggest questions along the line. Is D.J. going to shake the unfortunate injury bug? He had turned into a very good left tackle while on the field last season, but injuries kept him from staying there. Jared Veldheer had turned into a serviceable right tackle, but a 10.1 million dollar contract will force the front office to make some financial decisions.
Wetzel was the old staff’s “break glass in case of emergency” player. Wetzel can play pretty much anywhere on the offensive line, which upped his value.
Painter was the teams emergency offensive line player last season, and it even got to the point where he played a few snaps in the season finale.
This position could go either way. If the team can restructure Veldheer’s contract to the point that he stays with the team and not have to worry about looking for a starter via Free Agency.
Ja’Wuan James could headline a free agent class thats void of youthful starting talent. The Dolphins picked up his 9.3 million dollar 5th-year option last offseason, but now face the decision to either pay him the full amount or let him walk after a groin injury in 2017. He’ll be looking at a premier contract if he is released, and would likely be out of the Cardinals cap range.
The Draft will have a number of options, but outside of Notre Dam alum, Mike Mclinchey, the rest of the names have questions. Orlando Brown had a poor combine showing, Isaiah Wynn (already mentioned) is projected to move inside at the pro level, and the rest are day two players.
So what would I do?
I would have to trust that D.J. Humphries is ready to shake his injury history. Mike Iupati would be cut to open up 6.3 million dollars in cap space, while both Shipley and Boehm remaining on the roster. That would leave me with Jared Veldheer being my only question mark.
Veldheer could decide not to play ball on a contract extension, and get released. This would let him sign elsewhere as a left tackle, his natural position. With that, I can add another 6.9 million in cap space.
I’d attack Andrew Norwell because of Wilks’ and Brown’s familiarity with him. A five year, 12 million dollar contract is not out of the question and because I was able to free up Jared Veldheer’s contract space as well, it would leave me with the possibility to continue being aggressive in Free Agency.
Cameron Fleming and Chris Hubbard are two names I would take a look at. Neither will command huge money, but both did well in their opportunities last season. Hubbard struggles in run blocking, but his 74.0 pass blocking grade via PFF was serviceable.
Fleming will be an interesting name as well. Fleming played 191 snaps last season, allowing only 10 pressures, but four of which went for sacks. PFF gave him a 94.5 pass blocking grade for his work. If the Patriots don’t get him re-signed he would be my first option.
2018 Offensive Line:
LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: Andrew Norwell
C: A.Q. Shipley
RT: Cameron Fleming
The Cardinals invest some money to revamp their offensive line, which will help them draw in a Quarterback. In this scenario, Kirk Cousins does not sign with the team, forcing Wilks and his staff to pursue a cheaper alternative which will allow them to draft a franchise guy in April.
Is there someone else you would look at? Discuss in the comments.