I woke up feeling tempted to write threads about BA, Jason Licht and the Honey Badger —- and if you want to read my instant reactions to the Bucs NFCCG win last night you can visit my Twitter page @WBJMitch —- but Arians, Mathieu and Licht are no longer Cardinals and I do not want to dwell on the past and the billions of “what ifs” —- instead I want to keep my focus on what the current Arizona Cardinals need to do in order to improve their own prospects for chasing NFC West, NFC Conference and Super Bowl championships.
Therefore, my focus today is in response to the numerous Cardinals fans who've been urging the Cardinals to cut starting LG Justin Pugh.
Not so fast, my friends.
I think you are undervaluing and dissing the wrong guy.
Here are the reasons why:
- Justin Pugh is one of the very best pass blocking guards in the NFL.
- This season, Pugh had the highest pass blocking grade in the NFC West at 74.4, by virtue of only giving up 1 sack, 2 QB hits and 15 total pressures (less than 1 QB pressure a game).
- The next closest pass blocking grades at the guard position in the NFC West were from the Rams’ David Edwards at 63.6 (3 sacks, 6 QB hits, 22 QB pressures) and the 49ers’ Laken Tomlinson at 62.2 (3 sacks, 14 QB hits, 33 QB pressures).
- Pugh had a higher pass blocking grade this season (74.1) than top UFA G Joe Thuney (73.1). According to PFF, Thuney’s 2021 market value is $14.25M a year.
- While the other top UFA G Brandon Scherff had a higher pass blocking grade (81.1) this season than Justin Pugh’s, Scherff missed 3 games, including their Rams game, Despite Pugh playing the Rams twice and playing in all 16 games, Scherff gave up more sacks and QB pressures (3 sacks, 21 QB pressures). Pugh’s pass blocking grade in 2019 (82.2) was ten points higher than Scherff’s (72.0). Per PFF, Brandon Scherff’s 2021 market value is $15M a year.
- Justin Pugh is —- by far —- the Cardinals’ best interior offensive lineman. He is one of the main reasons why Kyler Murray was the second least sacked and hit QB in the NFL.
- The left side of the Cardinals’ offensive line has emerged as one of the best in the NFL, with D.J. Humphries at LT and Justin Pugh at RG. The past two seasons the tandem has only given up 10 sacks (5 each) and 7 QB hits (3 and 4 respectively). Their chemistry in pass protection in basic schemes and on TEX and LOOP stunts has been outstanding.
- Pugh’s 2021 base salary is $7.75M, plus he gets a roster bonus this season of $1.4M. Were the Cardinals to cut him, they would eat $4M in dead cap to recoup $3.75M.
- Plus, Pugh is no slouch in the running game. The only Cardinals’ offensive linemen to earn above average run blocking grades this season were LT D.J. Humphries (90.8), C Mason Cole (62.9) and LG Justin Pugh (62.7).
- The run blocking improvement from the Cardinals’ left side from 2019 to 2020 was noteworthy: LT D.J. Humphries (from 52.3 to 90.8) and LG Justin Pugh (from 55.1 to 62.7). Again, this speaks to the chemistry and continuity that D.J. and Justin have been developing.
It’s ironic that the Cardinals finally have one of the best pass blocking offensive lines in the NFL, this season grading #5 in the league at 73.3, which is a higher grade than the Bills (#6 at 73.1), Chiefs (#7 at 72.7) and Bucs (#14 at 67.8), and yet some fans want to dismantle the current personnel.
What the Cardinals need, imo, is to make a talent upgrade at center so that they can move Mason Cole to guard (where he is more natural and better suited) to compete for the starting RG job with Justin Murray and a talented 2021 draft pick.
Then, with regard to the rest of the right side, the Cardinals currently have three talented options at RT under contract in Josh Jones, Marcus Gilbert and Justin Murray.
My point is, the Cardinals are much better off continuing to build off their current personnel, rather than by subtracting from it.
Not only has Justin Pugh proven to be the best pass blocking guard in the NFC West and one of the top LGs in the NFC, he has emerged as a team leader. As many of you know, Justin Pugh stood up like a man prior to the Rams’ game and said that “people could lose jobs” if the Cardinals were to lose to the Rams and miss the playoffs. And this was spoken from a guy who knew he was going to have to block Aaron Donald for the second game in five weeks.
Justin Pugh graded higher this season versus Donald than Joe Thuney. As mentioned previously, Brandon Scherff missed the Rams game this year due to injury and only played in 13 regular season games. I bet that if he had played Donald, whom Justin Pugh played against in two games, Pugh’s and Scherff’s 2021 grades would have been similar.
This just in —- no NFL guard can have consistent success blocking Aaron Donald.
Therefore, it might impress you that in 65 pass attempts in 2 games versus the Rams this season, Justin Pugh gave up 0 sacks and only 2 QB pressures.
In conclusion, getting back to Pugh’s emergence as a team leader, Gambo expressed the same sentiments that I manifested about Pugh leadership following Pugh’s Week 17 press conference. Gambo includes a number of sound bites from Pugh’s presser. It’s a good, timely listen, particularly in retrospect.
Props to Pugh. He deserves them.