For the second straight year, the Arizona Cardinals passed on an offensive lineman in the draft. And for the second straight year, they could deploy one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.
Dating back to when coach Ken Whisenhunt came to Arizona in 2007, the de-emphasis on the offensive line has come as a surprise. The Cardinals have used just a single pick in Rounds 1-4 on an offensive lineman and have drafted only four lineman total during that period. Two of those draftees are no longer with the team (Herman Johnson and Trevor Canfield – fifth and seventh-round picks in 2009)
In a comparison to some of the more successful teams of late, the Cardinals' decision to neglect the offensive line can be second guessed even more. Since 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers have accumulated eight offensive linemen through the draft. The Green Bay Packers have called an offensive lineman's name on nine occasions and the New England Patriots have 10 times.
Arizona has failed to give itself a chance at developing a strong nucleus of players in the trenches. Refusing to invest in offensive linemen via the draft – even with late-round picks – has done little to help the team in times of adversity such as last year's disappointing 5-11 campaign.
Sure, the Cardinals will have an opportunity to address these ongoing issues in the trenches through free agency, but failing to bring in young talent for the second time in two years certainly won't make things easier. And for the most part, Arizona has been ineffective at identifying and landing talent through free agency.
A quick look along the Cardinals' offensive line shows an attempt to develop home-grown talent, but the results have been marginal at best.
LT Levi Brown, RT Brandon Keith, RG Deuce Lutui and C Lyle Sendlein were either drafted by Arizona or signed as undrafted free agents. While all four of them have been serviceable to some degree, none would be guaranteed starters elsewhere around the league.
Starting RT Brandon Keith would likely be a top backup on most NFL teams.
Sendlein, meanwhile, signed with Arizona as an undrafted free agent in 2007. Sendlein is a classic overachiever, but like Keith, at this point in his career should probably be a backup rather than an every-down player.
The fault increases dramatically when Brown enters the conversation. Brown was selected with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2007 draft but has failed to live up to those expectations thus far.
Brown was expected to grow into a cornerstone left tackle but things haven't exactly panned out accordingly. Yes, there's still a chance the light comes on for Brown but his performance has been underwhelming throughout his four-year career.
As for Lutui, a second-round pick in 2006, it more than likely won't matter heading into this season. Lutui has long had a rift with Whisenhunt and held out for the majority of training camp a year ago. Lutui has been in and out of the doghouse, primarily due to weight issues, a major no-no in Whisenhunt's book. The lockout could keep Lutui in Arizona for the short term, but there's also a good chance he'll wind up elsewhere when free agency eventually begins.
The Cardinals other starter from last season, LG Alan Faneca, announced his retirement and won't be back in 2011. Faneca's departure will only further exploit Arizona's deficiencies along the offensive line, as there are few capable replacements waiting in the wings to step in.
Maybe a few marquee free agents will be headed to the desert or maybe the team is banking on undrafted rookies coming to save the day. At this point, the Cardinals will need a little luck to turn things around on the offensive line this year.
Questions or comments? Contact Brad Wilbricht at firstname.lastname@example.org
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