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Pair of NFL.com analysts name Mike Iupati as best signing of 2015

Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) celebrates his touchdown with teammate Mike Iupati during the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Just about one year ago the Arizona Cardinals surprised people with the signing of guard Mike Iupati away from the San Francisco 49ers on a five-year, $40 million contract, with $22.5 million in guaranteed money.

A three-time Pro Bowler who was viewed as one of the best linemen available, the Cardinals did not exactly have a clear need at left guard with former first-round pick Jonathan Cooper expected to fill the role.

Yet, the Cardinals saw an opportunity to land an impact player, and what they got in the then-27-year-old was a player who made another Pro Bowl and helped pave the way for the NFL’s eighth-best rushing offense and second-best passing attack.

According to a couple of NFL.com analysts, he was the best free agent signing of last offseason.

The first, Heath Evans, wrote Iupati was a perfect fit in Arizona.

I’ll go with Mike Iupati — especially considering the team reeled off such a successful season. Not only did the Cardinals take arguably the best offensive player from a division rival (San Francisco), but they added a piece that gave Bruce Arians an opportunity to shape his offense into exactly what he wants: a downhill, power-running attack that takes deep shots.
Iupati is a player who is going to be a mainstay in Arizona. The attitude from the head coach matched the attitude of the player, and that disposition permeated through the team in 2015. That team was nasty this past season and it started up front, on both sides of the ball. Iupati was a great addition.

Iupati certainly had no problems fitting in with the Cardinals, and his mean streak on the field helped give the offensive line an edge.

The other writer to tab Iupati as the top free agent signing was Willie McGinest, who believes the lineman’s contribution gets overshadowed but provided a major boost for the Cardinals.

Protection was an issue for the Arizona Cardinals in 2014, and Mike Iupati was a great talent to bring in last season. His physical style — combined with a talented group of backs — helped bring balance to the offense. Arizona was no longer a one-dimensional team, because the Cards had an offensive line that could move the defense off the line of scrimmage. The run game opened the field up for their talented receiving corps, and Carson Palmer played some of the best football of his career.

We saw in the Super Bowl — and the entire playoffs, for that matter — how games can be won in the trenches. Protecting the quarterback is a huge thing in this league, and Arizona’s protection significantly improved with Iupati on the line.

Sounds about right.

Iupati was the second big-ticket offensive line free agency signing in as many seasons, as the Cardinals had added left tackle Jared Veldheer in 2014. The 2016 free agency period could once again bring Arizona’s line some help, as it has been reported they have interest in Alex Boone, Evan Mathis and Alex Mack.

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