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Free Agent Primer 2021: Offensive Line

GM Steve Keim has several decisions to make up front

Veteran right tackle Kelvin Beachum is an impending free agent after holding up well a season ago.
Veteran right tackle Kelvin Beachum is an impending free agent after holding up well a season ago.

The Cardinals cannonballed into free agency, signing J.J. Watt to a two-year deal. The work isn't done, as GM Steve Keim must fill other holes on the roster this offseason. The new league year begins on Wednesday, March 17, with the legal tampering period opening on Monday, March 15. We will break down each position group as free agency draws near.

Free agent primer: Offensive Line

Other free agent primers: CB I WR I LB I TE I DL I RB I S I ST I QB

Cap hit of players under contract for 2021 (via T D.J. Humphries ($19.9 million); G Justin Pugh ($11.2 million); C Mason Cole ($2.4 million); G Justin Murray ($2.3 million); G/T Josh Jones ($1.1 million); T Marcus Gilbert ($1.1 million); G/C Lamont Gaillard ($897,034); T Joshua Miles ($868,644); G Koda Martin ($660,000); T Branden Bowen ($660,000); G Shaq Calhoun ($850,000); G Sean Harlow ($850,000).

Scheduled free agents: T Kelvin Beachum; G J.R. Sweezy; G/C Max Garcia.

Need: Medium

Analysis: It will be interesting to see how Keim addresses the offensive line this offseason. Quarterback Kyler Murray's sack total decreased from 48 as a rookie to 27 last season, and the line earned standout pass-blocking marks from ESPN. The rushing attack was great early on but tailed off down the stretch, as teams took away Murray on the zone read and forced the more traditional run game to beat them.

Left tackle D.J. Humphries had a Pro Bowl-level campaign in 2020 and is back to headline the group. Left guard Justin Pugh also had a nice season, so the Cardinals could return that side of their line provided Pugh's contract is palatable.

Offensive line coach Sean Kugler said center will be an open competition, which means there could be a player added in free agency or the draft to compete with incumbent Mason Cole and backup Lamont Gaillard.

Free Agent Tracker 2021 Promo Image New

The NFL free agency period starts on March 17. Visit our free agent tracker page to follow all the movement.

Justin Murray overtook J.R. Sweezy as the starting right guard late in the season after playing right tackle in 2019. He will aim to secure a starting role, while Josh Jones, last year's third-round pick, hopes to get in the mix as well. Sweezy is a free agent and may depart.

Kelvin Beachum did a solid job at right tackle after signing late in the offseason but is an impending free agent. The Cardinals could try to bring him back provided the price is right. Veteran Marcus Gilbert is under contract for 2021 after opting out of last season but his future with the team is unclear.

The Cardinals could conceivably start five players who were on the team a year ago, although the free agent market may present an opportunity for an upgrade at certain spots. It's hard to know what will happen, as Keim could mostly ignore the line early in free agency or make a splash to fortify the group.

Notable past free agent offensive line signings: Beachum (2020); Sweezy (2019); Pugh (2018); Andre Smith (2018); Alex Boone (2017); Earl Watford (2017); Evan Mathis (2016); Mike Iupati (2015); A.Q. Shipley (2015); Jared 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).