The Cardinals finished with a losing record in 2016, but believe they can bounce back quickly and revert to contender status next season. Free agency will be key, as several of the team’s starters are scheduled to hit the open market. The Cardinals’ front office has plenty of decisions to make as free agency beckons on March 9. We’ll break down each position as it draws near.
Free agent primer: Offensive line
Cap hit of players under contract for 2017 (via OverTheCap.com): T
Analysis: The Cardinals’ offensive line allowed too much pressure in 2016, but injuries played a big role in that. Mathis was lost for the season in Week 5 and Veldheer in Week 8, critical blows to the protection. The fill-ins struggled initially, and while the offensive line improved as the season went on, it was too little, too late.
The Cardinals have three players with above-average potential under contract in Veldheer, Iupati and Humphries. Veldheer and Humphries may switch tackle spots, but no matter where they line up, the Cardinals have two solid pieces at critical positions on the line. Iupati had a down year in 2016 and will aim to return to Pro Bowl form.
The biggest questions are at center and right guard. Mathis retired, so someone new will start at guard. Shipley played well at center and is now a scheduled free agent, but the Cardinals would like to have him back and he wants to return.
Evan Boehm was drafted as a center of the future, but there have also been conversations about him playing guard. His position could depend on what happens in free agency and the draft. Cole Toner, Ulrick John and John Wetzel will aim to secure roster spots, while it remains to be seen if the team tries to re-sign Earl Watford, who filled in at several spots in 2016.
Even though the offensive line struggled in 2016, there may not be many changes, especially if Shipley is re-signed. Right guard is the biggest hole, and it would be the most likely target if the Cardinals sign a potential starter in free agency. With all of the money given to Veldheer and Iupati, GM Steve Keim may not want to pay for a top-tier guard, but the addition of a solid veteran would make sense.
Notable past free agent offensive line signings: Mathis (2016); Iupati (2015); Shipley (2015); Veldheer (2014); Ted Larsen (2014); Eric Winston (2013); Adam Snyder (2012); Daryn Colledge (2011); Rex Hadnot (2010); Mike Gandy (2007); Al Johnson (2007); Milford Brown (2006); Oliver Ross (2005); Pete Kendall (2001); Mike Gruttadauria (2000); Lester Holmes (1998); Lomas Brown (1996).