Entering the 2016 season, the Arizona Cardinals had every reason to be confident in the changes they made along the offensive line.
Though the team had to replace three starters, its center, right guard and right tackle, Arizona felt the veteran addition of right guard Evan Mathis and the opportunity for 2015 first round draft pick D.J. Humphries to slide into the lineup at right tackle gave the team improved firepower up front.
The one question mark Arizona faced was how journeyman A.Q. Shipley would fare in his bid to provide stability at center while replacing long-time Cardinals' starter Lyle Sendlein.
It turns out, it was Shipley who became the one lineman Arizona's coaching staff never had to worry about.
As left tackle Jared Veldheer and left guard Mike Iupati battled injuries and inconsistencies, it was Shipley who anchored the Cardinals' line in 2016, becoming the most dependable player on a unit that used upward of half of a dozen starting combinations.
While Shipley began the season with just 22 careers starts over four NFL seasons, his second full season in Arizona saw him become the only Cardinals' lineman to start all 16 games.
By the end of the year, Shipley had solidified his status as a competent starting lineman for the Cardinals and had earned the trust of head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.
Though the re-signing of Shipley won't thrill Cardinals' fans --it's not the type of move that's going to move the needle-- it will please a coaching staff that wants some semblance of stability on the line in 2017.
Shipley isn't the type of bruiser who's going to blow up nose tackles in the run game, and he's not the surest pass protector on the Cardinals' unit, but his ability to hold up over the course of a 16-game season and communicate effectively with the players he's surrounded with up front is what makes him an attractive player to the Cardinals' coaches.
Furthermore, while terms of Shipley's deal have yet to be disclosed, it's unlikely Shipley will cost Arizona more than $2 million annually, which means he's the type of a plug-and-play starter who saves the team cap space to spend on other crucial parts of the roster.
Shipley's return means Arizona will have four of its five starting linemen back, and it means it will have its primary communicator up front back. The likes of Veldheer, Iupati and Humphries won't need to get used to a new center making new calls up front, as they have already spent a full year working with Shipley in the middle of the line and building an understanding of his tendencies and how he identifies defenses.
Shipley's re-signing does impact the rest of Arizona's depth chart --namely fellow center Evan Boehm-- who was drafted in the fourth round by the Cardinals in 2016 and expected to compete for the starting center job following Sendlein's departure last season.
The Cardinals are excited about Boehm's future, and earlier this offseason, Arians indicated the team may explore the option of transitioning Boehm to guard if Shipley came back to the team. Now that Shipley's on board, the Cardinals can either explore the free agent market and attempt to sign a player to compete with Boehm, or have Boehm compete with John Wetzel, who started eight games for Arizona in 2016, at right guard.
While Boehm may still serve as Shipley's backup, it's clear the Cardinals felt strongly enough about Shipley's play in 2016 that he shouldn't have any problem reassuming his starting spot this season.
Re-signing Shipley may not have been the big splash Cardinals' fans were hoping for on the first day of free agency, but it is the type of signing that will give Arizona's coaching staff piece of mind as the offseason moves along.