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Cardinals Sign Will Hernandez For Offensive Line

Veteran could slide into right guard role

The Cardinals have added guard Will Hernandez in free agency.
The Cardinals have added guard Will Hernandez in free agency.

In a quest to find a new starter at right guard, familiarity gave the Cardinals an answer.

Will Hernandez, who signed a one-year contract Monday, was coached in college by Sean Kugler, who is now the Cardinals run game coordinator/offensive line coach.

But it goes beyond that. Hernandez grew up in nearby Las Vegas and has spent plenty of time in the Phoenix area, at one point having family living in the Valley.

"In a way, it's part of my childhood and part of me growing up," Hernandez said. "Phoenix is near and dear to my heart."

Hernandez was a second-round pick of the New York Giants in 2018, following a decorated career at UTEP under Kugler. Kugler's presence is crucial – Hernandez credits his then-and-now coach the biggest reason why he reached the NFL.

"He's the one who made me the football player that I am today," Hernandez said. "You're going to spend every day with your offensive line coach, so why not make be someone you are close to and, by the way, is very good at what he does."

The Cardinals' offensive line has been all but set – aside from right guard. Justin Pugh redid his contract to remain at left guard, next to left tackle D.J. Humphries. Rodney Hudson will play center. Kelvin Beachum is the returning right tackle, although 2020 third-round pick Josh Jones could have the chance to win the job.

Right guard had little stability in 2021. Jones started the season but struggled. Justin Murray, who remains on the roster, would've been the starter but missed most of the season with a back injury. Max Garcia also started there, although Garcia signed with the Giants on Monday and is no longer an option.

Hernandez, the third outside free agent the Cardinals have signed after cornerback Jeff Gladney and inside linebacker Nick Vigil, should take the job. He has started 56 of 62 games in four seasons, including all 17 games for the Giants last season.

"I'm not here to mess around," Hernandez said. "I'm here to help."

The Cardinals' trip to Mexico City has already caught his eye. He didn't know until signing Monday the Cardinals will have a game there, but Hernandez's parents are from the city – most of his father's side of his family still live there – and Spanish was Hernandez's first language.

Being a role model for the Hispanic fan base is something that is important to Hernandez.

"I'm proud of my roots, I'm proud of where I came from," he said. "I like being able to show kids who look like me something like this is possible."

He's already connected with a number of his new linemates. He got to know Beachum through an offseason camp run by fellow offensive lineman Nate Solder. He knows Justin Pugh, whom he helped replace with the Giants when Pugh came to Arizona as a free agent and now has done the same with a move West. He's also met Hudson at a Super Bowl because both are represented by the same agency.

"I feel like I'm already close to these guys," Hernandez said.