Well, the Arizona Cardinals continue to write the book “How to Stunt OL Growth”—-authored by GM Steve Keim, with forewords and illustrations by the coaching staffs.
According to the New York Times, the Cardinals’ book has become THE book to rival the perennial best-seller “Mad Dash to the Outhouse,” by I.P. Nightly with foreword by Willie May-Kitt and illustrations by Betty Dont.
Chapter 1—-Use the NFL Draft as a Revolving Door: The Tackle Position
- Prime Example 1: select T D.J. Humphries in the 1st Round of the 2015 NFL Draft, then nickname him “Knee Deep” in training camp, have him train at RT opposite of where he played in college and don’t play him one snap for his entire rookie year—-then in year two—- make a list ditch effort to re-sign UFA RT Bobbie Massey only to lose Massey to the Bears and then watch Humphries struggle at RT—-get moved back to LT in year 3, miss 21 games combined in years 2,3,4 due to injuries, but award him his 5th year option at $9.625M—-despite his only having played in 27 games over the course of 4 years.
- Prime Example 2: select T Cole Toner in Round 5 of the 2016 NFL Draft—-have him make the 2016 roster as a rookie, then select T Will Holden in the 5th Round of the 2017 NFL Draft, cut Toner and replace him with Holden on the 2017 roster, then select T Korey Cunningham in the 7th Round of the 2018 NFL Draft, cut Holden and replace him with Cunningham on the 2018 roster, then select T Joshua Miles in the 7th Round of the 2019, then trade Cunningham and replace him with Miles on the 2019 roster.
Chapter 2—-Use the NFL Draft as a Revolving Door: The Guard Position
- Prime Example: Use a top 10 pick to select G Jonathan Cooper in the 2013 NFL Draft only to lose him to injury in year one, to bench him in year 2 because he can’t adjust mentally to the changes in gamelans from week to week, then trade him in year 3. Draft G Earl Watford in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft and pigeonhole him as a “swing” player and keep paying veteran free agents to play guard ahead of him while never giving him a legitimate chance to be a starter, then let him walk in free agency. Select Pittsburgh All-American G Dorian Johnson in the 4th Round of the 2017 NFL Draft, relegate him to the rookie practice field and a spot on the 3rd team offensive line, play him sparingly in the pre-season and cut him—-and then when he clears waivers, don’t sign him to the practice squad.
Chapter 3—-Use the NFL Draft as a Revolving Door: The Center Position
- Prime Example: Use a 4th Round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to select C Evan Boehm and then move him to guard where he struggles, so bench him at guard and never give him a decent opportunity to play center and then cut him in 2018, only to watch him play center for the playoff bound Indianapolis Colts. Then, in the 2018 NFL Draft, select C Mason Cole in the 3rd Round, watch him be the only OL to start all 16 games, but then groom him in 2019 to be a “swing” player and have him battle for his starting job with veteran A.Q. Shipley who was re-signed to a one year contract following his season-ending ACL tear in 2018. Then in the 2019 NFL Draft, select C Lamont Gaillard in the 6th Round, and groom him to be a swing player.
Chapter 4—-How To Stifle a Rookie OL is 5 Easy Steps
- Switch him over to the opposite side of where he played in college.
- Have him try to learn 2-3 positions of his new offense at once.
- Never give him a legitimate chance to compete for a starting job.
- Then sign via free agency or trade a veteran at his position before the start of his 2nd year.
- Draft another player at his position again in the following year.
Bonus Ball: change coaches and have him learn a whole new system again in year 2, as Mason Cole and Korey Cunningham had to do.
Chapter 5—-When You Cut or Trade a Young OL, Have the Media Act Like They Are Informed
- Prime Example: the very second it was announced that the Patriots traded a 6th round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft for T Korey Cunningham, several of the Arizona media who cover the Cardinals took to Twitter to spin the trade as the Cardinals “getting a 6th round pick for a player they were going to cut anyway.” First of all—-no one in the media knows who the Cardinals are going to keep or cut this year, especially with a new coaching staff. Secondly—-if Korey Cunningham was going to get cut for sure, the Cardinals wouldn’t have gotten a 6th round pick for him—-at best they would get a 7th—-or even a “conditional” 7th. The fact that the Cardinals received a 6th round pick for Cunningham suggests one of two things: (a) that the Patriots initiated the talks; (b) that there was another team or two that was interested in Cunningham and thus, to acquire him, the Patriots had to up the ante. This just in—-the Patriots are not fools—-they are not going to give away a 6th rounder unless they really like the young player.
- Chapter 6—-When You Trade a Young, Healthy OL to the World Champions, It’s Not a Good Look
First of all, the Patriots made a trade with the 49ers last year acquiring 2015 7th round draft pick, T Trent Brown, for a 5th Round pick. The 49ers did not view Trent Brown as their starting tackle after they drafted Mike McGlinchey in the 1st round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Thus, the Patriots swooped in and made the trade.
The trade worked out very well for both the Patriots and Brown. Brown played well at LT and helped the Patriots win Super Bowl LIII. And this off-season, the Raiders signed Brown to a 4 year $66M contract with $36.75M guaranteed. Like the saying goes, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”
Over the course of their first 6 starts in the NFL, Trent Brown’s and Korey Cunningham’s PFF grades were very similar, 61.9 for Brown and 60.4 for Cunningham. If a young tackle can score in the low 60s in his first 5-6 games as a starter, that’s pretty good, especially considering how strictly PFF grades offensive linemen.
The fact that the Patriots, who boast the best OL coach in the NFL in Dante Scarnecchia and one of top rated offensive lines in the league, have already chosen Korey Cunningham to be their swing tackle this season, while the Cardinals, with what many consider to be one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, were so willing to give up this quickly on Cunningham, makes the Cardinals, quite frankly, look ridiculous.
Of course, the greatest irony would be if the Cardinals use the Patriots’ 6th round pick to draft Joshua Miles’ replacement in 2020. Meanwhile, the Patriots control Korey Cunningham’s rights for the next 3 years. And they know a little something about the patience, teaching and confidence it takes to develop young, talented offensive linemen.
Chapter 7—-Make Sure There is a Disconnect Between the OC and Offensive Line Coach
In this case, the Cardinals’ OC is their new head coach, Kliff Kingsbury. If one studies Kingsbury’s version of the Air Raid offense one quickly learns that he likes his offensive linemen to be athletic enough to play with a blend of strength and finesse.
An early potential concern, however, is that the Cardinals’ new offensive line coach, Sean Kugler, seems to prefer players with power over finesse. If athleticism is one of the top priorities, then Mason Cole would be the clear choice at center, mauler J. R. Sweezy wouldn’t have been the top UFA guard target this off-season and Korey Cunningham would have been used primarily at LT where he is most natural and comfortable.
Remember that Kliff Kingsbury loves at times to employ wider than average splits along the offensive line. But to be effective doing that, you have to have athletic linemen who have the quickness to take out gap blitzers and the finesse it takes to leverage those blocks.
Sean Kluger has been swearing from day one that the Cardinals are going to run the ball much more than people think—-but—-the K-Raid is not typically a power running attack. It is a nuanced mis-direction scheme that depends on all five offensive linemen being able to reach block, to “influence” a defender one way and leverage him, to pull on numerous plays, often in tandem on counters, and to get their hightails quickly downfield to make blocks on the second level on WR tunnel screens, RB screens, RB draws, WR jet sweeps, WR reverses and on a variety of run, pass options (RPOs).
Hopefully the current group of offensive linemen can develop chemistry and can perform the kinds of blocks that the K-Raid requires, but it is quite possible that by this time next year there will be a brand new set of faces in the fold and even possibly a change at offensive line coach if Sean Kugler isn’t in philosophical harmony with the system.
It feels as if the Cardinals wouldn’t have given up so quickly on Cunningham if they didn’t have something in the works. Hopefully, some nifty K-Raid OL fits are acquired over the next few days. Regardless, it’s time to start developing the young talent (I already have high hopes for Mason Cole, Lamont Gaillard, Joshua Miles and UCFA William Sweet—-I hope the coaches feel the same)—-this revolving door and monotonous cycle of selecting and spitting out draft picks has to end.