Arizona Cardinals pre-NFL Draft offensive line outlook

The Cardinals return just two starters on the offensive line from a season ago, and the team could be looking for the center of the future in this year's draft.

Current Roster Number: 13 (Center-Taylor Boggs, A.Q. Shipley, Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, Guard-John Fullington, Mike Iupati, Evan Mathis, Antoine McClain, Earl Watford, Tackle-Edawn Coughman, Rob Crisp, D.J. Humphries, Jared Veldheer, John Wetzel) 

Ideal Roster Number: 9-10

Returning Starters: 2/5 (LT-Veldheer, LG-Iupati)

Draft Need: Moderate to High Priority

Roster Composition: Arizona's offensive line will have a decidedly different feel to it in 2016 as the Cardinals return just two of their five starters from a season ago. 

The most significant change comes at the center position, where Lyle Sendlein has started since 2008. Sendlein was the model of consistency for many years in Arizona and helped bridge the gap from the Ken Whisenhunt era to the Bruce Arians era by providing tough, physical play at one of the most difficult positions in football.

The Cardinals have three centers on their roster with fifth-year veteran A.Q. Shipley poised to assume the starting spot if the Cardinals decide to focus their priorities elsewhere in the draft. Shipley has started at least three games in all four seasons during his career, but our belief is that the team will pursue adding an offensive linemen either through the draft or in free agency to challenge Shipley at center.

On the left side of the line, the Cardinals return both starters in tackle Jared Veldheer and guard Mike Iupati. We think this is an excellent duo that forms one of the best side-by-side guard-tackle punches in the NFL, and the Cardinals have both players under contract through at least the 2018 season.

Veldheer is the highest-paid offensive lineman on the roster with a contract worth $9 million this season, but Iupati will surpass that total in the coming years as his salary is set to jump from $5.7 million in 2016 to $9.2 million annually from 2017-2019. 

As long as Veldheer and Iupati remain healthy, quarterback Carson Palmer's blind side is in good shape, which is especially critical as Palmer enters the final years of his career. 

With Veldeer and Iupati locked in on the left side, much of the focus on how this unit will come together centers on the moving pieces on the right side of the offensive line. 

The Cardinals dealt former second round draft pick and starting right guard Jonathan Cooper to New England in the deal that brought Chandler Jones to Arizona, but the team offset the loss of Cooper by inking former Denver Broncos guard Evan Mathis to a one-year deal worth $6 million. 

Mathis is 34 years old and reportedly considered retirement after winning the Super Bowl in February, but despite his age, he's considered by many to be an upgrade over Cooper at the position. The challenge for Mathis will be changing up his footwork, as he has earned the bulks of his starts at left guard over the past five seasons. 

Outside of Mathis, the Cardinals appear intent on starting 2015 first round draft pick D.J. Humphries at right tackle. Humphries was the 24th overall selection last year, but Humphries did not see playing time last season. Though the Florida product possesses great potential and an excellent 6-foot-5 frame to work with, Humphries' lack of experience represents a significant question mark for the Cardinals entering the season.

Mathis' addition and the stability afforded to the Cardinals by Veldheer and Iupati are luxuries for the Cardinals, and the team will count on those three players to help the offensive line develop in fall camp.

Outside of the projected starters, the Cardinals' primary depth options include guard Earl Watford, who has served as a reserve offensive lineman for the Cardinals for the last three seasons, and center Taylor Boggs, who has played in just seven games over the last three years.

Aside from Watford and Boggs, the Cardinals don't have any offensive linemen with meaningful NFL experience, but the team can always look to add a journeyman player after the draft concludes. 

Draft Outlook

It's fairly clear the Cardinals need to consider adding at least one offensive lineman in the draft, and it's likely the team uses one of its first three selections to make that pick. 

Center is one of the most overlooked positions in the NFL, and the Cardinals enjoyed rare stability at the position thanks to the success of Sendlein. At a press conference last week, general manager Steve Keim acknowledged center is a position of need for Arizona, but said the team might think outside the box to address that need.

The Cardinals will consider drafting a prospect who played guard or even tackle at the college level if the team believes that player can make a successful transition to center in the NFL. Of course, Arizona will still consider players who project as centers, and Alabama's Ryan Kelly could be an enticing pick if he falls to the Cardinals at No. 29 in the first round.

Ultimately, the Cardinals may also draft a tackle as insurance behind Veldheer and Humphries, because the team's primary backups in Boggs and Watford are both interior linemen. Furthermore, Humphries doesn't have NFL experience despite being a first round selection, so the Cardinals may want to find a player who can compete for playing time in year one. 

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