The Cardinals could have many familiar faces on the offensive line next season, including Evan Boehm (left), A.Q. Shipley (center) and Mike Iupati.
The numbers confirmed what the eyes could see.
When Carson Palmer was sacked three times or more in a game last season, he was a below-average quarterback. When he was sacked two times or less, he was a borderline Pro Bowler.
It's no secret that a clean quarterback is an effective one, which is why so much attention was focused on the offensive line as the offseason began. Palmer was sacked 40 times a season ago, which was 15 more than in 2015.
Many believed General Manager Steve Keim would grab a veteran guard or center to upgrade the unit, but he passed on outside replacements. The Cardinals re-signed incumbent center A.Q. Shipley, and second-year lineman Evan Boehm will get the first crack at right guard when offseason workouts begin.
After so many issues a year ago, why did the Cardinals ignore the position in free agency? Coach Bruce Arians believes injuries, not lack of talent, was the culprit for the 2016 struggles. Right guard Evan Mathis was placed on injured reserve after Week 4, left tackle Jared Veldheer after Week 8 and right tackle D.J. Humphries didn't play after Week 14.
"We got all the guys from IR back and now we have nine guys who played a bunch last year," Arians said. "So that competition, you don't have to throw anybody in there. That competition to get to be one of those seven on Sunday should be really good. Knock on wood they all stay healthy this year."
Mathis retired after last season and Earl Watford signed with the Jaguars as a free agent, but the rest of the faces are familiar. Mike Iupati joins Humphries, Shipley, Veldheer and Boehm as the projected starters at this point, while reserves Ulrick John and John Wetzel return after picking up some valuable playing time.
The biggest change on the line will be the expected flip-flopping of tackles Veldheer and Humphries. Veldheer was the team's marquee free agent signing in 2014 and has done a nice job protecting Palmer's blind-side the past three seasons.
Humphries was the team's first-round pick in 2015 that didn't play as a rookie, but improved mightily a season ago. He showed enough potential for the coaches to feel comfortable about his ability to take over the crucial left tackle role.
"We're so fortunate," Arians said. "We have two left tackles. Most people don't have any."
Arians isn't completely sold on the switch quite yet. Humphries has impressive movement skills for a big man, so in a perfect world he would lock down the left side for years to come, but it won't happen if Veldheer can't adequately transition to the right side.
"I want to see (Veldheer) at that position first," Arians said. "I saw D.J. play right so I'm fine there, but I'd like to see Jared try it."
There's one other part of the equation. Veldheer was signed to play left tackle, and he has lived up to the big contract. He's stated his desire to remain there, and it would be a blow to the ego to move to the right side. However, Arians said Veldheer has been receptive to the change, willing to put his individual feelings aside.
"It's all about what's best for the team," Arians said, "and he's the ultimate team player."