Rodney Hudson’s unexcused absence from Arizona Cardinals’ mandatory minicamp is already creating concerns about his future in the desert. Whether he wants to be traded or is contemplating retirement is anyone’s guess at this point, but the fact remains that the Cardinals must address this position now instead of later.
General manager Steve Keim knows all too well the impact a center has on a football team, which is why he opted to trade Mason Cole to the Vikings and acquired three-time Pro Bowler Rodney Hudson from the Raiders as his replacement to upgrade the center position in the first place. The Cardinals dealt with some turnover at the position last season due to COVID and injuries to Hudson which forced the team to start either Max Garcia or Sean Harlow in a few games.
All we know now is both Hudson and the Cardinals are “working through something” but it is not clear whether this issue will be resolved soon. Though starting guard Justin Pugh will give center a try, it takes more than just knowing how to snap a football to play the position. It is a more mental than physically-demanding position after all as a play identifier or another pair of eyes to make the job of a quarterback easier.
As of now, the Cardinals are left with Sean Harlow and two potential projects at center with career guards Justin Pugh and 2022 sixth-round pick Lecitus Smith out of Virginia Tech. Max Garcia signed with the Giants however the Cardinals visited with former Giant and first-round pick Billy Price in May.
If the Cardinals were aware of this Hudson situation prior to the 2022 NFL Draft, they surely have not done enough to reconcile this predicament that they are currently in. Whether Hudson calls it quits or opts to stay, Arizona cannot sit idly by and wait for something to happen.
Here are three veteran free agent centers for the Cardinals to consider signing:
1. J.C. Tretter - Cleveland Browns
J.C. Tretter made 80 starts since signing with the Browns in 2017. In 5,298 snaps over the last five NFL seasons, he has allowed only six sacks, was penalized 17 times, and has had a PFF pass blocking rating no lower than an 80.4. The former Brown and Packer is still among one of the best centers in the NFL and remains a free agent. A Hudson trade or retirement would free up more cap space for the Cardinals to acquire this veteran.
2. Matt Paradis - Carolina Panthers
Cardinals run game coordinator and offensive line coach Sean Kugler is very familiar with free agent center Matt Paradis. The 32-year-old center was formerly a sixth-round selection out of Boise State by the Denver Broncos in the 2014 draft who has started in 98 games in his career. Kugler coached Paradis in 2018, Kugler followed Vance Joseph to Arizona in 2019 as Paradis signed a three-year $27 million deal with the Panthers. The eight-year veteran sat out eight games last season due to a torn ACL. If he is fully recovered, Paradis is a player worth signing.
3. Trey Hopkins - Cincinnati Bengals
Hopkins was released by the Bengals in March after they inked Ted Karras to a three-year deal. The former undrafted free agent out of Texas made 67 starts since 2015 and remains versatile with his experience at both the center and guard positions. Through he has had his struggles, Hopkins would in fact be considered an upgrade over everyone outside of Hudson at the center position. He logged 100% of snaps throughout all four games in the playoffs last season with the Cincinnati Bengals. The last Texas center to play for the Cardinals churned out a pretty respectable nine-year NFL career and his name was Lyle Sendlein.
Will Hudson return to the Cardinals? Will he retire? Does he want to be traded?
Regardless of what happens, the ideal outcome for the Cardinals is for Rodney Hudson to remain in Arizona especially after signing him to a three-year $30 million extension last offseason. Kyler Murray wants him back and he knows how important of a player Hudson is to him and the organization.