Where Cardinals Stand with Offensive Line

How do the Arizona Cardinals feel about where they stand in regards to their blockers up front entering the 2021 offseason.
Author:
Publish date:

The Arizona Cardinals defense received a major boost this week with the addition of J.J. Watt. 

But, the Cardinals are still evaluating each position group to see where more improvements are needed. 

That includes on the offensive line, a unit that improved from 2019, but still had some major deficiencies, specifically in run blocking.

Tackle

The left tackle spot is the most solidified on the line, as D.J. Humphries put together perhaps his best pro season in 2020. 

He allowed just three sacks while leading the league's left tackles in snaps, per Pro Football Focus. 

The right side is less clear.

“There’s a number of things that will get sorted out here," general manager Steve Keim said on Wednesday.

Kelvin Beachum started all 16 games there last year, but is an impending unrestricted free agent. 

He took over when Marcus Gilbert opted out of last season for being of high-risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He is under contract for the 2021 season at a $1.05 million cap hit, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury said he has not heard from Gilbert about a potential a return. 

Another option could be 2020 rookie Josh Jones. He played just five percent of Arizona's offensive snaps, but has shown his coaches that he can be versatile. 

Arizona Cardinals tackle Josh Jones

"We're very excited about him," offensive line coach Sean Kugler said on recently. "He offers position flexibility. He can play tackle, he can play guard. We'll see where that goes as we get into the offseason."

Keim added that Jones has gotten bigger and stronger since being drafted last year, which he feels was necessary. 

But, Jones is still a young player, and Gilbert has played just 12 games since 2016 due to injuries and opting out. 

Guard

On the left side, Justin Pugh is signed through 2022, and is set for a cap hit of just under $11.2 million cap this year. He has started 31 of the Cardinals 32 games since the start of 2019. 

That spots seems to be solid, unless the Cardinals release him and search for a replacement. Cutting Pugh would result in a $4 million dead cap hit, but if they wait for next year it would only be $2 million. 

Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman Justin Pugh (67) against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

The currently decreased salary cap may rebound somewhat by then as well. 

On the other side, J.R. Sweezy is a free agent. He was the starter for Arizona to start the season, but he lost his spot to Justin Murray during the season. 

Murray played right tackle in 2019 after Gilbert was injured before Week 1. Murray is signed through 2022, and Kugler was impressed by his transition inside. 

"He gave up one sack on the year," Kugler said. "He's consistent. He's got a lot of things he's got to get better at. And I trust that guy to put in the work to do that and expect them to get better and better."

Jones' ability to move inside could help the Cardinals depth there as well. 

Center

Kugler mentioned that bringing in a new center is not out of the realm of possibility. 

Mason Cole started 14 games with Lamont Gaillard taking two last year, and their play was "up and down," as Kugler put it. 

More details on center here

Kingsbury said that the Cardinals "start up front." Their offense stalled when the run game was thwarted late in the season.

Being in a division with several defenders who can dominate in the backfield like Los Angeles Rams tackle Aaron Donald and San Francisco 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa increases the need for good protection. 

"We’ll continue to try to build those groups and develop the young players that we have currently in our program,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said.