If you were perusing social media this time last week, you likely saw the following NFL tweet go viral.
For those who remember that predraft process, it was easy to spot.
This video was also a reminder, at least for me, of what the Cardinals had done on that infamous 2020 draft weekend. Isaiah Simmons was, of course, the selection at pick number eight with Wirfs going several picks later to Tampa.
Wirfs, along with his first round tackle counterparts, had consistently been linked to the Cardinals throughout the offseason. It was thought to be common knowledge that if one of the elite pass blocking prospects were to fall to Steve Keim, he’d raced to his virtual podium in excitement. Remember, the Cardinals were coming off a 2019 in which the right tackle position had been a turnstile.
Marcus Gilbert had been lost to the season due to injury and future starter Kelvin Beachum wouldn’t be signed until mid summer 2020.
Yet even with the likes of Wirfs, Mekhi Becton and Jedrick Wills Jr. all on the board, Keim went with the ubber versatile Simmons.
From there, Arizona did not have a second round pick due to the heist that remains the DeAndre Hopkins trade,.
When we finally arrived at pick 72 in the third round, Arizona’s front office pounced at the opportunity to select Houston’s Josh Jones. Jones had been consistently viewed as a top 40 prospect throughout draft season, yet due to reasons that remain a mystery, free fell to the Cardinals atop the third round.
At the time, I labeled the draft steal as a “gift from the football gods”.
Yet Wirfs, like his first round counterpart Isaiah Simmons, was at a disadvantage due to the continued presence of COVID-19 reecking havoc on the league’s vital offseason programs. Offensive line is incredibly difficult to transition from college to pros in a normal year, much less one that is stripped of all of it’s in person workouts.
Yet to his credit, Jones was consistently praised by respected Cardinal coach Sean Kugler among other team officials. So much so that Jones himself was active for 13 games as rookie, checking in from time to time as the team’s sixth linemen. All things considered, that’s an impressive accomplishment for the then green 23 year old.
It is Tristan Wirfs impressive? No, but we take what we can get here.
Another factor in slow playing Jones’s development was the play of newcomer Kelvin Beachum, who quickly established himself as a presence both on and off the field for Arizona. The former Steeler and Jet seamlessly transitioned to right tackle after playing the large majority of his career on the left side. He, along with left tackle D.J. Humphries, combined to form perhaps the most underrated pair of tackles in all of football.
Beachum nabbed Pro Football Focus honors as well, earning a season grade of 69 while playing the second most snaps at the position (1126).
So when the veteran signed a team friendly two year extension this past spring, very few were surprised. This move left little question as to who would be protecting Kyler Murray for the next two season.
Kelvin Beachum was a fantastic signing last summer. The Cardinals appear set at tackle with he and standout D.J. Humphries.— Johnny Venerable (@JohnnyVenerable) March 16, 2021
Now about that interior...
It did raise the question, however, as to what the team plans to do with the aforementioned Josh Jones now that his previously drafted role is once again occupied. Earlier this offseason, when asked about Jones, Cardinal offensive line coach Sean Kugler had this to say:
““He offers positional flexibility. He can play tackle, he can play guard. We’ll see where that goes when we get into the offseason.”
If you’re scoring at home, this was the first time since joining the Cardinals that the team acknowledged that Jones could be kicked inside to guard.
When these comments were made back in March, it appeared as if Jones had a clearly defined path to a starting role. There was speculation that Justin Pugh may be a cap casualty, while the remaining competition for right guard was journeymen Justin Murray. Yet after Pugh took a paycut to remain with the club, Arizona then went out and signed veteran guard Brian Winters.
Winters, who coincidentally was also pick 72 back in 2013, was a seven year staple amongst the New York Jets offensive line. During the large majority of his time with Gang Green, he was slotted next to one Kelvin Beachum.
While his modest one year contract could signal a depth signing, note that Winters had already been seen taking starting snaps during team OTAs this spring.
Taking a look at each player in the four-way battle for the starting right guard job— Andy Kwong (@akwong31) June 10, 2021
Justin Murray permanently replaced J.R. Sweezy in the starting lineup in Week 15 of 2020. Brian Winters has been getting first-team reps in OTAs https://t.co/zs8o9sQayV
Again, after clarity was assumed for Jones following Kugler’s comments, his 2021 role again appears muddled.
Where the former Houston Cougar will have an advantage this fall is with the return of the NFL’s preseason. Perhaps a showcase with the second team is what Jones needs to solidify himself as an option among the starters.
Or perhaps the 24 year old second year player will have to continue to wait his turn amongst a sea of veterans before finally breaking through. Remember that former Cardinal fourth rounder Bobby Massie, after a tumultuous rookie campaign, was essentially benched by Bruce Arians until his third season before turning into one of the league’s more underrated right tackles.
The best advice I can give Jones is to stay healthy and ready. Pugh, who is likely entering his last year with the team, has a history of injuries. Winters has also missed stretches of time in his eight year career.
There are worse places to be than as the team’s first man off the bench (outside of center). Given the fact that the league added an additional game for 2021, there should be plenty of opportunities for Jones to show his worth.
In the meantime, I’d recommended muting the word “Wirfs” on Twitter.
Just a thought.