Steve Keim did it again.
The Arizona Cardinals and former Oakland Raiders tackle Jared Veldheer have agreed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract, with $17 million in guaranteed money. And this guy has the ability to become a franchise left tackle for years to come.
Veldheer is 26 years old and getting better. Although he tore his left triceps in training camp last year and only played in five games, Veldheer has transformed his body from a lanky kid with good feet from Hillsdale College into something more closely resembling the Incredible Hulk from Marvel Comics.
He's a workout freak that lives in the gym and loves the process of getting bigger and stronger. He loves to play the game, doesn't mind getting the knuckles bloody and excels in a power-running scheme, featuring the inside zone or, in Cardinals Country, 22 and 23 Double. The Cardinals ran this play over 20 times against the Seattle Seahawks in their stunning upset in Week 16 and it's Bruce Arians' favorite rushing play. I don't imagine them running it any less in 2014 when Jonathan Cooper lines up next to Veldheer on the left side of the offensive line.
But you don't pay left tackles the big money because they know how to run-block. And that's where this story gets better. Veldheer is improving in pass protection, which wasn't bad to begin with. His technique has gotten better and so has the results. According to Pro Football Focus, Veldheer has allowed 18 sacks since his rookie season of 2010, 7.5 of which came in his rookie season. This is a kid that has started 48 of a possible 53 games for the Raiders and he's allowed 18 sacks, playing against Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Shaun Phillips twice a year.
The Cardinals haven't had a legitimate left tackle since Lomas Brown played for them from 1996-98, making the Pro Bowl in 1996. In 2001 the Cards thought they had their man in Leonard Davis and again in 2007 in Levi Brown. Both these high number-one picks struggled to live up to their draft status and needed to prove they could hold the position down. Veldheer has proven himself worthy of the position and although nobody is saying he's a perennial All-Pro, he's a known commodity.
Recruiting is a big part of what a general manager in today's NFL needs to do well and Jared Veldheer is Exhibit "A." Veldheer took less money to come to Arizona. Free agents are not into the habit of taking less money on the free agent market unless the GM did a nice job of presenting perks that may come with signing a contract. And this is where Keim has paid off in spades.
Whether it's convincing a John Abraham and Eric Winston to sign contracts right before training camp opens, or signing the likes of Karlos Dansby, Matt Shaughnessy and Frostee Rucker to one-year deals, or convincing a franchise left tackle to take less money to come to Arizona, Steve Keim has succeeded and is apparently bent on making another run at NFL Executive of the Year.
Jared Veldheer will improve the Cardinals biggest area of need, protecting Carson Palmer, immensely. And the running game should be that much better in 2014 with Veldheer firing off the ball, removing the line-of-scrimmage. But the fact Big Red got him on such solid terms for the next five years, when the Raiders were offering more, is incredible...like the Hulk.