Dealing Cards: Cardinals have options for the left tackle position

Jan 2, 2017, 1:52 PM | Updated: Jan 3, 2017, 11:26 am
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TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals have many questions to answer regarding their roster, with more than 20 players hitting free agency this offseason.

However, one of the biggest unknowns facing the team as the calendar has turned to 2017 — both figuratively and literally — is what will happen at the left tackle position.

In Jared Veldheer and D.J. Humphries, the Cardinals have two players who have proven capable of manning arguably the most important spot on the offensive line.

As the tackles and the rest of their teammates cleaned out their lockers Monday, both indicated they would prefer to be on the left side.

“I’d like to stay there,” Veldheer, who is recovering from a torn right triceps, said. “I’ve been playing that spot since my redshirt freshman year of college, with zero reps on the right side.

“It’s obviously, at the end of the day, not really my decision to make, but whatever happens happens and we’ve got two really good tackles, which is a good thing. We’ll figure it all out.”

Veldheer has been the Cardinals’ left tackle since signing a free agent contract with the team before the 2014 season. A veteran of seven NFL seasons, he really has not done anything on the field to warrant a position change.

But when Veldheer went down with his injury in Week 8, it created some uncertainty at left tackle. John Wetzel got the nod for the first two games in Veldheer’s absence, but in Week 12, when the Cardinals went to Atlanta, it was Humphries who lined up at the position.

The second-year pro played well, until a concussion in a Week 14 loss to the Miami Dolphins ended his season.

“If I had my choice, I would just want to be on the field again,” Humphries, who said he is feeling good now following the first concussion of his career, said of his position going forward. “I’ll just leave it up to those guys (coaches) and let them do their thing.

“I’m confident in myself either way, if I’ve got to go back to right or if I’ve got to go back to left. Whatever it is, I’m ready for whatever — I just need to know before the offseason starts so I even know what to practice.”

If the Cardinals have an inkling of what direction they will go with regards to left tackle, head coach Bruce Arians was not ready to share on Monday.

“We’re very fortunate. We have two,” he said. “It’s just who plays left and who plays right. We’ll make those decisions later. Watching Jared rehab and see where he’s at rehab-wise, but we’re very fortunate we have two of them.”

Arians did say, however, he believes Humphries can be a left tackle long-term.

“Whether he is, we’ll wait and see, but he can be for sure.”

The Cardinals have some time to figure this out.

As for his rehab, Veldheer said everything has been on point through the first couple of months since the surgery, and he is optimistic the final parts of therapy will go well and he will be back on the field for the team’s spring program.

For him, the big moment in his recovery will be when he plays again and feels like he did before the injury. This is not the first time he has gone through this kind of rehabilitation process — he suffered a torn left triceps in 2013 while with the Raiders — and said the nice thing is it’s an arm injury rather than a leg injury.

“The majority of the stuff doesn’t feel really weird,” he said. “Because you use your hands and your arms a lot, but your feet take you everywhere you go on the football field.”

With that in mind, Veldheer said in comparing this recovery from the last one, at least he will not come back in the middle of the season.

“Trying to knock the dust off vs. DeMarcus Ware on Thanksgiving is a little different than knocking the dust off in OTAs,” he said.

Chandler Jones will be back, he guarantees it

The Cardinals have a good many players reaching free agency this offseason (we’ll have more on that in the coming days and weeks), but it looks like at least one player is guaranteed to return.

In talking about how Chandler Jones and Markus Golden provided the team with a dynamic pass rush, Arians said that was exactly what the team set out to create when it added the former New England Patriot and free-agent-to-be to the roster via a trade.

“Chandler’s not going anywhere because if we have to, we will franchise him,” Arians said. “Hopefully we will get it all done and be able to move on.”

The franchise tag, of course, is a one-year contract with a monetary average of whichever is higher between the top five salaries at a given player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary.

The last time the Cardinals used the franchise tag was in 2012, when it was placed on Calais Campbell while they worked on a long-term extension.

Arians reaffirmed they would have no hesitation in busting it out again.

“In a heartbeat on the right guy,” he said. “Number 55. Not to mention any names.”

Jones, by the way, wore No. 55.

Scooby goes back to school

Linebacker Scooby Wright was not with the Cardinals very long, and in three games recorded a pair of tackles on special teams.

Given that he was signed off the Cleveland Browns practice squad, he is under contract for next season, and figures to be back with the team when offseason work resumes. But before that, he will be returning to college.

“I’m going to Arizona, going to go finish up, get closer to my degree, get that piece of paper,” he said. “And then just be training hard. Going to work hard and do what I need to do.”

Wright said he is about two semesters away from graduating with a degree in general studies, and though he left college for the NFL after his junior year, he is still technically “on track.”

A seventh-round pick in last year’s draft, Wright’s NFL future is far from certain. That is part of his reasoning for wanting to earn his degree, but it’s not the only reason.

“I promised my mom and dad that I would go back and get it if I left early, so I’m going to keep that promise and go get it,” he said. “But this day in age, you need your degree; you never know when this sport ends or whatever. So much crazy stuff happens in this business, and it’s always good to have that degree in your pocket.”

Nelson emerged down the stretch

Last week, Arians said there was no doubt J.J. Nelson had shown him enough to be a No. 2 receiver.

“He’s a legitimate threat out there; just keeping him healthy is the big thing,” the coach said.

At the time, Nelson was in the midst of a stretch in which he scored at least one touchdown in four straight games. The second-year pro out of UAB finished the season with 34 catches, 568 yards and six receiving touchdowns, while adding 83 yards and a score on four rushing attempts.

The former fifth-round pick was third on the team in receiving yards and tied with Larry Fitzgerald for first in receiving touchdowns.

Nelson chuckled when thinking of the touchdown streak.

“I feel like I did OK — could have been a whole lot better,” he said of his season. “I dropped a lot of balls that I know that I shouldn’t have dropped, but I made a lot of plays that I know I can make. I’m just going to come in next year and continue to get better and hopefully build on this season.”

As for the idea of being a top receiver, Nelson said those words coming from his coach mean a lot.

“He sees the potential and he sees me come in and work each and every day to be the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 receiver,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter to me. I just want to come in and make plays and, like I’ve said, continue to get better and climb that ladder.”

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Dealing Cards: Cardinals have options for the left tackle position