The Arizona Cardinals' search for their franchise left tackle is over. According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, the organization reached an agreement with former Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Veldheer’s deal spans five years, pays him $35 million total and $17 million guaranteed.
This, in turn, means the 26-year-old third-round pick will make $7 million a year in the desert. That’s an awful lot of money for a player who is coming off of an injury-shortened season in 2013.
However, when healthy, Veldheer proved he was a top-tier left tackle in the NFL. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he tallied the league’s seventh-best pass-blocking grade in 2012 and only surrendered 33 quarterback pressures in 16 starts.
Furthermore, he finished the year as PFF’s 12th-highest graded offensive tackle. His ability to protect the passer will go a long way in Arizona, because quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked 41 times, hit 59 times and hurried 174 times.
Of the 274 quarterback pressures the Cardinals surrendered, left tackle Bradley Sowell was the main culprit. In 842 snaps, he allowed seven quarterback sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 40 quarterback hurries. This means he was responsible for 21.5 percent of the quarterback pressures Arizona allowed in 2013.
That is simply not good enough. As far as Veldheer’s run-blocking ability goes, the Cardinals are in for a real treat. When the Raiders rushed the ball off of his backside in 2012, they amassed 4.1 yards per carry on 32 attempts and picked up 52 yards after contact.
Based on the fact running back Rashard Mendenhall is hanging up his cleats, one should expect the Cardinals to run more to the outside with second-year tailback Andre Ellington. Ellington is at his best on stretch plays, tosses and sweeps.
Per PFF, Ellington averaged 8.4 yards a carry when he ran outside the tackle box, and 3.75 yards a carry when he ran behind the left and right tackles. Without a doubt, his numbers (behind the tackles) are set to jump way up in 2014. On the surface, Veldheer appears to be the perfect schematic fit for the Cardinals.
Even though head coach Bruce Arians told Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com that left tackle wasn’t the team’s most glaring need, general manager Steve Keim didn’t agree. The signing is clearly a win-win for both parties. Veldheer immediately becomes the Cardinals best offensive lineman, and his experience will aid Jonathan Cooper’s development at left guard.
The only question mark surrounding Veldheer is his health. Can he bounce back from a triceps tear that forced him to miss 11 games last year? That’s the million-dollar question. Yes, he did start the final five games of the season for the Raiders, but he didn’t look 100 percent healthy when he did play. He looked rusty and seemed tentative at the point of attack.
The good news is outside of his freak injury in 2013, Veldheer has been incredibly durable. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, he played in all 48 games and made 43 starts. Once he takes his physical for the Cardinals, they will have a better idea as to where he stands medically.
All in all, Arizona did what it had to do to address a position that has been its Achilles heel on an annual basis. Cardinals fans can’t ask for much more. The organization didn’t overpay for Veldheer’s services, he hasn’t reached his ceiling as a player and he only stands to get better under the team’s offensive coaching staff.
A tip of that hat to Keim and Arizona’s front-office staff, they started free agency off on the right foot.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).