The Arizona Cardinals expected starting RT for the season, Marcus Gilbert, is reportedly out for the year with a torn ACL. This puts the Cardinals in an early, difficult spot: forced to replace a starting offensive lineman for the entire 16 game slate with a rookie, franchise QB taking the reins.
The two candidates to replace Gilbert are journeyman, waiver addition Justin Murray or the recently signed Jordan Mills who has plenty of experience but was graded by PFF last year to have a grade of 56.1 over 16 starts. For context, last year's starting RT, Andre Smith, who was cut in November by the team finished the season with a PFF grade of 57.7.
But this isn't an unusual spot for the team. In fact, under GM Steve Keim, this has been the standard operating procedure. Despite the fact the OL has consistently been an area of concern, Keim has insisted on cobbling together a unit from a combination of injury plagued veterans, late round reaches and fringe NFL caliber roster fillers.
In 2018, when the team pinned their hopes at RT on a notoriously underachieving Andre Smith, they were forced to use Joe Barksdale and Korey Cunningham as RT placeholders.
In 2017, when Jared Veldheer contemplated retirement in training camp and eventually got injured ending the season in IR, 5th rounder Will Holden took over.
In 2016, DJ Humphries finally cracked the starting lineup at right tackle after a redshirt rookie year. He would end the season, as he has ended every season since, injured. He was replaced by Ulrick John, a tackle the Cardinals had signed off the Miami Dolphins practice squad in October of that year.
So, if you're keeping track at home, the Arizona Cardinals have had their starting RT end their season on IR in each of the last 4 seasons. The replacements for the starters have been Justin Murray, Joe Barksdale, Will Holden and Ulrick John. Aside from Murray, the other three have not started another game in the NFL post Cardinals.
You have to go all the way back to 2015 to find a year in which the Cardinals starting RT finished the year. In fact, in 2014 and 2015 the Cardinals were set at RT. Bobby Massie, the team's 4th round pick in 2012, started 30 of 32 games, only missing 2 due to a league suspension. After the 2015 season Steve Keim let Bobby Massie walk as a free agent, whereupon he signed with the Chicago Bears and has started 47 of the last 49 games at RT for the Bears. He signed a reasonable 4 year, $30 million dollar extension with the defending NFC North champs this past offseason.
So the Cardinals had their solution at RT, but they let him walk. Sure, Massie had his league suspension and wasn't exactly a standout but he was capable and durable, two qualities each starting RT has been missing since. Also, its worth noting that Massie was not a Keim draft pick; instead he was part of Rod Graves's final draft.
Keim himself has had very poor success drafting offensive lineman. In fact, over the last four NFL Drafts the Cardinals under Keim have not drafted a single offensive lineman in the first three rounds. During that span, Keim has spent a total of 8 draft picks on the OL. Of the 6 OL picks before the 2019 draft, only Mason Cole remains on the roster.
To add insult to injury, in the 2018 Draft the Arizona Cardinals moved up to select QB Josh Rosen only to dump him one year later for a late second round draft pick that became WR Andy Isabella. With the 15th pick that year, the Oakland Raiders drafted T Kolton Miller in the Cardinals original draft position. Miller has started 17 of 17 games in his career and helped shut down Bradley Chubb and Von Miller in a Week 1 win for the Raiders.
The Cardinals RT issues did not sneak up on them. Its been an ongoing issue for four consecutive seasons and instead of trying to find a real solution, Steve Keim keeps repeating his same mistake. With Kyler Murray now assuming the franchise QB role, the Cardinals can ill afford to allow the OL to be a weakness for the fourth straight season.
Steve Keim should be keeping a close eye on the RT position this season, not because he may have to find a replacement but because he may have to find a new job if history holds up.