Position capsule: Offensive line

The Arizona Cardinals started eight different combinations along the offensive line in 16 games this season.

Position capsule: Offensive line

Returners: Jared VeldheerMike IupatiD.J. HumphriesEvan BoehmCole TonerUlrick John

Free agents: A.Q. ShipleyEarl WatfordJohn WetzelTaylor Boggs

Retiring: Evan Mathis

Contracts: Veldheer: 2017-$10,000,000, 2018-$10,250,000, Iupati: 2017-$9,700,000, 2018-$9,700,000, 2019-$9,700,000, Humphries: 2017-$2,430,576, 2018-$2,835,672, Boehm: 2017-$666,620, 2018-$756,620, 2019-$846,623, Toner: 2017-$586,096, 2018-$676,096, 2019-$766,097, John: 2017-$615,000

Current Roster Number: 6

Ideal Roster Number: 8-9

2016 in performance: Very little went right for the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line in 2016, as the team started eight different combinations of players and used five different starting right guards due to injuries. The Cardinals' line was decimated early and often this season, as Mathis, Veldheer, John and Boggs landed on injured reserve while Iupati, Watford and Humphries all missed time due to injuries. When you couple that with head coach Bruce Arians' reluctance to play his rookies, Boehm and Toner, the Cardinals were extraordinarily thin up front.

Arizona finished the year allowing 40 sacks, the second most quarterback Carson Palmer has taken during his career, but all in all, aside from some of the team's second half road games, the line probably did as well as it could given the circumstances. 

Offensive coordinator and line coach Harold Goodwin was seemingly able to plug stopgaps in at various positions as Wetzel proved to be a valuable swiss-army knife, John proved somewhat capable at right tackle, and Boggs wound up having some decent reps at guard before his injury. Though none of those players are likely to ever receive glowing reviews for their performances, the fact the Cardinals had to use those players in the first place reveals just how complicated the team's injury situation had become.

The quiet storyline that emerged over the course of the year is that Shipley was truly the team's best lineman this season, starting all 16 games at center after winning a position battle that was never really close over Boehm during the preseason. Shipley was sharp, tough and consistent and now that he's a free agent, Arizona may have to be willing to dig deeper into its pockets than it initially thought to keep him in the fold. 

2017 readiness: Even though the Cardinals' offensive line struggled due to injuries for much of 2016, the group is actually in a strong position to rebound in 2017 given the improvements of players like Shipley and Humphries.

If Arizona is able to re-sign Shipley, it gives the team a proven center who has worked with Palmer and has a great command for the offensive line around him. With Veldheer and Iupati back, Arizona has a solid foundation on the left side of the line that it doesn't have to worry about. In Humphries, the team has a star-in-the-making, a player who could conceivably be the Cardinals' most physical and most talented lineman by the end of the 2017 campaign. 

The question for Arizona --much as it was this year-- is the team's depth. The Cardinals could make a case that they don't need to add much via free agency because John is a quality backup option and Boehm and Toner are entering year two in the NFL, when things start to click for many offensive linemen. Still, after experiencing all of the injury issues the Cardinals did in 2017 and watching the offensive line injuries around the league, the Cardinals would be wise to add one or two more veteran pieces for depth purposes.

The long haul: The Cardinals are in decent shape entering the long haul because Veldheer, Iupati and Humphries are all under contract through at least 2018 and that trio forms a very solid core for the team up front. Aside from that trio, if Boehm, the team's fourth round draft pick, develops into a capable starter, the Cardinals will have four players signed up for the long haul at this key position group.

One of the questions facing the Cardinals is what to do about Shipley, considering the team drafted Boehm to be the center of the future, yet Shipley was the team's most valuable lineman in 2016. Conventional wisdom says the Cardinals should re-sign Shipley and allow Boehm to back him up until he's ready to match or better his production on an every down basis. However, the Cardinals still need a right guard, and if they think Boehm is almost ready to go, then Arizona may allow Shipley to walk and save money to secure a free agent to start at guard.

Draft need: Low priority

Position overview: The Cardinals could always look to add an offensive lineman for depth purposes through the draft --perhaps a Watford or Boehm type of a player, but it's unlikely the team will use one of its first two draft picks on a right guard of the future considering Arizona has plenty of other needs across the board.

The Cardinals are in a strong position moving forward along the offensive line, especially if many of the team's younger linemen continue to progress as expected. With Veldheer, Iupati and Humphries, the Cardinals may not have any All-Pro-caliber linemen on their roster, but they do have solid starters capable of protecting Palmer and opening lanes for running back David Johnson, which is all the team can really ask for after last season's struggles. 


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