Football Outsiders: Cardinals O-line remains biggest hole

May 6, 2019, 8:44 AM | Updated: May 7, 2019, 11:49 am
Arizona Cardinals offensive guard Justin Pugh (67) sets to block against the Minnesota Vikings duri...
Arizona Cardinals offensive guard Justin Pugh (67) sets to block against the Minnesota Vikings during an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 27-17. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)
(Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim hinted that he wouldn’t overspend during this rare offseason in which he had plenty of cap space to burn through.

Keim signed linebacker Jordan Hicks, the team’s most talented offseason addition, but at a value compared to the free agent counterparts on the market.

The team also inked a three-year deal with cornerback Robert Alford, who is coming off his most disappointing season yet. He attributed that to a nearly year-long ankle injury.

On the offensive side of the ball, Arizona went after bargain receivers like Kevin White and low-cost offensive linemen coming off injuries in J.R. Sweezy and Max Garcia. Also along the line, the Cardinals dealt a sixth-round pick for tackle Marcus Gilbert, another player coming off injury.

The NFL Draft did more than fill holes at receiver, but as the offseason roster turnover comes to a crawl, the biggest hole heading into this offseason remains, according to Football Outsiders’ Vince Verhei. Even though Arizona did a lot of work to restructure the offensive line for first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, too many red flags remain.

In February, we wrote about how the Cardinals’ offensive line was ravaged by injuries last year, with every starter on IR or cut by the first week of December. Arizona’s solution to this problem was to trade for Pittsburgh’s Marcus Gilbert (who missed 11 games last year and nine in 2017) and sign J.R. Sweezy (who missed all of 2016 with a back injury and couldn’t stick with Tampa Bay or Seattle since then) in free agency. That duo will start along with D.J. Humphries and right guard Justin Pugh, who have each missed more than 20 games over the past three years, and A.Q. Shipley, who will turn 33 this month and coming off a torn ACL. The draft produced little help save for a pair of late-round fliers. Kyler Murray may soon face the same pressure that pushed Josh Rosen out of Arizona.

To some degree, the Cardinals did add to the offensive line depth in the draft. It just came after they’d selected three receivers.

In the sixth round, they drafted Georgia center Lamont Gaillard, who also has the versatility to slide to either guard spot. With the first pick in the seventh round, they took Morgan State’s Joshua Miles, a project who projects as a tackle or guard.

Arizona also has 2018 third-round pick Mason Cole adding center and potentially guard depth. Tackle and 2018 seventh-round pick Korey Cunningham also returns for his second season after inspiring hope he could be a future piece last season.

Still, the draft combined with the injury history of the projected starters isn’t so comforting.

“I think some people were questioning … the second-round pick of (cornerback Byron) Murphy, not (taking) an offensive tackle when you have some guys there like Cody Ford, Jawaan Taylor and others,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Kiper still gave Arizona a B+ grade on the entire draft.

Following the draft, Keim said the chips didn’t fall in place for the Cardinals to draft an offensive lineman in the middle rounds after leading off the draft by selecting quarterback Kyler Murray.

“It was almost like there were some really high-rated offensive linemen and then all of a sudden it dipped, and then there were some who were value picks in the backend,” Keim said. “Only time will tell, but that’s how our board fell.”

Time will also tell whether his many gambles on buy-low veterans with injury histories will pan out as Arizona ushers in a rookie head coach, and leading Kingsbury’s offense, a rookie quarterback.

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Football Outsiders: Cardinals O-line remains biggest hole