Arizona Cardinals Offensive Line Will Be Much-Improved in 2021

Cardinals offensive line

Despite some costly performances last year, the Arizona Cardinals offensive line is on a upward trend. Taking a pragmatic approach to the group, general manager Steve Keim retained what was good and replaced what wasn’t. With a new and improved look, the Cardinals offensive line has all the makings to be one of the team’s strengths this upcoming season.

Improved Cardinals Offensive Line Will Be a Strength in 2021

Out With The Old…

In 2021, the Cardinals offensive lineĀ  will be missing at least two of the starters from last year’s group. Starting center Mason Cole, a 2018 late-round pick, was one of the most notable bad performers in 2020. Cole earned a paltry 54.4 PFF grade, tying for the second-most penalties amongst all centers in the NFL. He was ultimately shipped to the Minnesota Vikings for a 2021 sixth-round pick, with which the Cardinals selected cornerback Tay Gowan.

The team also elected to move on from veteran J.R. Sweezy. A 52.5 PFF grade makes for ugly reading in what looks to be his last season in Cardinal red.

And In With The Old

As a unit, the Cardinals offensive line was not great in 2020. Penalties wracked the group throughout the year and ostensibly cost the team some games. Within a below-average year for the unit though, there were some notable bright spots.

One such positive was the continued development of franchise left tackle D.J. Humphries. Prior to the 2020 season, Humphries signed a three-year extension with the Cardinals. He did give up some sacks and penalties in 2020, but an overall 88.3 PFF grade is testament to the improvement of Humphries on the back of his big contract. A PFF grade of 92.5 after Week 5 in 2020 was only bested by Deshaun Watson and Aaron Donald. After a slow start to his career, Humphries has rewarded the organization’s faith in him by becoming one of the better tackles in the league.

Opposite Humphries, one-year rental Kelvin Beachum earned himself an longer stay in the desert. Beachum’s career seemed to have stalled, but the former left tackle played well on the right for Arizona. Just like Humphries, he contributed his share of penalties, but Beachum quietly secured himself a concrete spot with the Cardinals in 2020. The bookend tackles were the best of an average group in 2020, but retaining the two gives the unit reassurance as Steve Keim rebuilds the interior.

Despite not impressing in 2020, the Cardinals were also able to bring back Justin Pugh on a restructured deal. Agreeing to a pay cut that gave the Cardinals more flexibility, he also provides continuity along the line.

New Acquistions Fix Clear Issues

Aside from the fact that they play the league’s most dominant interior defender in Aaron Donald twice a year, interior pressure makes pocket passing difficult for the 5’10” Kyler Murray. Poor interior line play by Arizona often meant that Murray was unable to demonstrate his ability as a pocket passer. This was a major factor in why the Cardinals suffered so many holding penalties in the 2020 season; when the quarterback starts moving around, it is difficult for lineman to avoid holding calls.

Picking up Rodney Hudson might have been one of Steve Keim’s best trades on paper. Making a deal before Hudson was released by the Las Vegas Raiders, Keim gave up a third-rounder for the best statistical center in NFL. In Hudson, the Cardinals gain a stout pass protector and effective run blocker, addressing their interior issues. An experienced veteran, the 32-year old will also be in position to help the relatively-inexperienced Murray with his calls at the line of scrimmage

The only position that is currently up for grabs is the right guard spot vacated by J.R. Sweezy. His initial replacement, Justin Murray, is a strong candidate for the starting job. However, the team also brought in former Buffalo Bills starter Brian Winters to compete. In addition, Josh Jones has been mentioned as a potential contender for the spot. Whoever takes the job, the signings of Winters and Hudson represent a clear commitment by Steve Keim to improving the interior of the offensive line.

Why The Offensive Line Will Be A Strength

In 2020, there was both good and bad on the Cardinals offensive line. So they kept the good and got rid of the bad, replacing bad with better. In 2021, the Cardinals offensive line has the makings of a successful unit. Credit where it’s due to Steve Keim, identifying a need at center and maneuvering into position to land one of the league’s best in Rodney Hudson. The team addressed last year’s poor interior line play.

Addressing positional needs is important, but the continuity from past years will be the catalyst for improvement from the entire Cardinals offense. Humphries and Pugh have now played two full seasons with Kyler Murray at quarterback. Beachum played all 16 games in 2020. He and Hudson will now have the benefit of a full off-season of work with QB1. Although the group needed an upgrade in terms of talent, familiarity with Kyler Murray’s dynamic, unpredictable style will fundamentally help to clean up the holding penalties that shredded the unit last year. Ultimately, the offensive line will facilitate a huge leap for the Cardinals offense in 2021.

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