The Arizona Cardinals head into free agency with strong needs along the offensive line. What else is new right? It seems that every year the Cardinals are facing the prospect of rebuilding their line on the fly. No matter how many players they draft, and they have drafted plenty, they never seem to find that lasting combination. You know, the ones that almost all championship teams seem to have.
The Cardinals have spent top picks on a few offensive linemen over the years and unfortunately they haven’t been able to land the kind of anchor you hope for when spending a top pick. Everybody remembers the Levi Brown pick, 5th overall in 2007, but most notably for the fact that they passed over Adrian Peterson to draft Brown. Oops. There was also the 2nd overall pick in 2001, Leonard Davis, who was a complete bust for the Cardinals. This past season the Cardinals spent the 7th overall pick on guard Jonathan Cooper who got injured in the preseason and missed all of the 2013 season. All eyes will be on Cooper to see if he is finally a Cardinal lineman worthy of a top pick.
For a team that is constantly in flux on the offensive line, this year they might consider a different route. Free agency is often a risky proposition for teams. Many players get overpaid on past performance but are already on the decline. The offensive line is a little easier to predict than other positions though. It is a position that relies more on technique and savvy than sheer athletic ability. It is also rare that many good linemen actually reach unrestricted free agency. Why? Because teams know just how important it is to have a good line and also how important continuity is for production. Make no mistake, the offensive line works as a unit, no other position group requires the same kind of togetherness.
This year is a bit of an anomaly. There are three good left tackles in their prime on the market in Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe, and Jared Veldheer. There is also veteran Jordan Gross from Carolina and the recently emerged Anthony Collins from Cincinnati. That’s five solid options at the Cardinals biggest position of need. Left tackle is a position that the Cardinals may be willing to slightly overpay for. There is a lot of depth in this draft class but I think the Cardinals would love to lock down that position so they don’t feel pressure to draft for need in May.
The Cardinals also need to figure out their right tackle. Is Bobby Massie ready for prime time? Word out of Cardinals camp is that he made too many mental mistakes last year. Will the team resign their own free agent tackle Eric Winston? Winston is a solid pro but is he a long term answer? There are a couple of right tackle options in free agency as well. Michael Oher, yes that one, is hitting free agency for the first time and could be ready for a change of scenery. My guess though is that the Cardinals will roll with Massie or resign Winston for a short deal. This is a position that will probably be looked at for depth in the later rounds of the draft.
There are some nice guards and centers too. Alex Mack from Cleveland is a very good center. Zane Beadles has done well for Denver at guard and seemingly the entire interior line for the Chiefs are free agents, but the Cardinals are not in a position to spend on more than one top lineman. Left tackle is by far the biggest need and the team has some depth to try and develop on the interior. Nate Potter and Earl Watford are two guys that the Cardinals will be looking to get more out of this season.
I fully expect the Cardinals to be very aggressive in going after one of the top left tackles. The rumors so far have all pointed to Branden Albert and they say that the Cardinals will have to fight with Miami for his services. What will the Cardinals do if they land a top left tackle and then Jake Mathews or Taylor Lewan fall to them at number 20 on draft day? If they’re smart they will draft them anyway. You can’t have too much talent on the offensive line. The Cardinals have certainly never had that problem before.