The Cardinals turn to Bradley Sowell (79) at left tackle after trading Levi Brown (75) to Pittsburgh.
As far back as the first week of the season, General Manager Steve Keim was already having discussions with coach Bruce Arians and team president Michael Bidwill about potential moves with starting left tackle Levi Brown.
One came Wednesday, as the Cardinals shipped their long-time and much criticized offensive lineman to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a trade for a conditional draft pick – a move that was as much about moving on to the future as it was about changing the current offensive line.
"Levi Brown was not living up to our expectations on the field," Keim said.
"At the end of the day," Keim added, "when you realize he is not in the long-term plans, instead of belaboring
the point, it's in the best interests of the organization to move on."
Bradley Sowell, the tackle the Cardinals acquired via waivers from the Colts at the end of the preseason, slides into the starting left tackle spot. Nate Potter will be his backup, and the Cardinals know Sowell may have growing pains.
But both Keim and Arians said they think Sowell has a chance to earn a spot as the team's long-term left tackle.
"That's his opportunity, to prove to us right now that come January or February, we don't have to make that look behind door number 2," Arians said.
Sowell, 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds, played a little for Arians in Indianapolis last season at right tackle, but Arians said he is more natural at left tackle and that's where Sowell played in college when he was bookends with current teammate Bobby Massie at Mississippi.
Expectations are that Sowell can handle the job, but clearly, the Cardinals had no qualms switching from Brown.
"I don't think there's any risk (in the move) because of the problems that have occurred," Arians said. "I don't think it can get any worse and hopefully it can get better. Not just in pass protection but in the run game as well."
Brown missed all of 2012 with a torn triceps injury. The Brown Arians said he saw on video from past play – the one that moved Arians to call Brown "elite" before the offseason work even began – never showed up, he said.
"The tackle we evaluated (from) 2011 was a heck of a left tackle," Arians said. "The tackle that got back isn't the same guy."
Brown is expected to replace struggling left tackle Mike Adams in Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals' offensive line now has just two starters left from 2012 – center Lyle Sendlein and guard Daryn Colledge. With Brown gone and Potter able to play both guard and tackle, the Cards might be more inclined to dress just seven on game days.
Arians said he still wants to make sure the blocking up front improves, and prevents quarterback Carson Palmer from being hit too often.
Palmer said there was comfort in knowing offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin "hand-picked" Sowell to play left tackle. But right tackle Eric Winston said the entire line needs to upgrade their play.
"We can't have that many times (Carson) being hit and sacked," Winston said. "We have to set our goals a little higher. We have to take that extra step. We just need that extra second (and) we'll get some big plays. But we have to just keep plugging. On the offensive line, there is no secret recipe, no easy way to fix things. Only way to fix things is through a lot of work and technique and effort."
There is one other way, of course – change personnel, which the Cards did Wednesday.
"All young players are going to take their lumps," Keim said of Sowell, noting that the three tackles taken in the top four picks in the draft have all struggled at times despite their lofty draft status.
"I don't think it'll be any different for Bradley. We don't expect him to jump in and look like Joe Thomas from Day One. He's going to have his issues from time to time. But what we are banking on is a guy who will grow."