Earlier this week, the Arizona Cardinals signed free agent guard Mike Iupati, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, to a five-year, $40 million contract with $22.5 million guaranteed.
Locally, the deal was met with a lot of approval. After all, the Cardinals ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing in 2014, putting up a paltry 81.8 yards per game. Iupati, who was ranked as the fourth-best free agent available by NFL.com, has the reputation of being a devastating run blocker, so it makes sense, right?
Not according to everyone. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus wrote an ESPN Insider article touching on some free agent signings that made no sense, and he lists the Iupati contract prominently.
There is no doubt that Mike Iupati was one of the best guards available this free agency period, if not the best, and Arizona’s play at the position last year was horrible, so on the face of it this deal makes perfect sense, right? The issue is that Iupati is a pretty one-dimensional player — strong and powerful as a run-blocker, but struggling throughout his career as a pass protector.
Arizona passes far more than San Francisco does, and when they pass it tends to be a deep shot on a deep dropback — the toughest assignment for a pass protector. In 2014, the 49ers passed on 58.1 percent of their plays on offense, 25th in the league, and Iupati surrendered seven sacks, the most in the league at the position. While some of that can be explained by Iupati carrying an injury much of the season, he has never earned a positive grade at PFF over a season for pass protection, grading below average every single year as a pro. The Cardinals needed to upgrade at guard, but they have done so by bringing in one singularly unqualified to fit their offense.
Yes, Iupati revealed at his introductory press conference in Tempe that he played a portion of last season with a broken foot.
Still, the 27-year-old ranked as PFF’s best run-blocking left guard. And while he did struggle in pass protection, Iupati still ranked way higher than the man he’s replacing, Ted Larsen.
Iupati’s pass blocking figure was -7.5, which placed him 55th among NFL guards. Larsen’s season mark was -15.7, the third-worst mark in the league among the 78 guards the website rated.
Seems like significant improvement in both areas, doesn’t it?