Veldheer will become the latest in a long line of poor souls charged with protecting the blind side of a Cardinals’ quarterback. Let me be the first to say, good luck. Since Arizona drafted Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007 -- two picks before Adrian Peterson went to the Minnesota Vikings -- the Cards have suited up seven left tackles. With Veldheer and the Cardinals agreeing to a five-year contract Tuesday worth $35 million, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, make it eight. And, the Cardinals hope, the last for a while.
There are two unenviable positions on the Cardinals, and following quarterback -- a position this team hasn’t had success at save for current starter, Carson Palmer, and Kurt Warner -- left tackle is a close second. All of Arizona’s offensive issues for the past few years have been blamed on those two positions. Bad pass? Not just the quarterback’s fault. The left tackle missed a block. Busted run? The left tackle didn’t run fast enough. Sack? No matter if it came off the right side, it was the left tackle’s fault.
For years, Cardinals’ fans wanted Brown to be replaced. When it finally happened after Week 4, when Arizona traded Brown to Pittsburgh and promoted Bradley Sowell, the fan base almost immediately wanted Brown back.
Nobody could win.
But with Veldheer, Arizona will have its best left tackle in at least 10 years. Maybe longer. He’s young, he’s talented and he’s proven, which is the key for Arizona. The Cardinals have taken tackles high in the draft -- Leonard Davis second overall in 2001 and Brown fifth overall in 2007 -- but they were unproven commodities. Veldheer comes in with a track record and was endorsed by Palmer, his teammate with Oakland in 2011 and 2012, during the recruitment process. According to Pro Football Focus, Veldheer has allowed 18 sacks since his rookie season of 2010 -- as many as Arizona allowed in the final eight games last season. In 2011, Palmer was sacked 17 times. In 2012, 26.
The biggest question mark, and it will be addressed during his upcoming physical, is how well Veldheer's left triceps has recovered from surgery in 2013 -- coincidentally the same injury that benched Brown in 2012.
Veldheer has a chance to establish himself as the best Cardinals left tackle since they moved to Arizona -- or at least since Lomas Brown made the Pro Bowl in 1996. But it won’t be an easy task in the NFC West. He’ll have to deal with St. Louis’ Robert Quinn, the waves of Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco’s Justin Smith. Did I say, good luck?
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim turned the franchise around in a hurry last season with some very good free-agent signings, but it's possible none will be as important as Veldheer for the team’s future. He turns 27 in June, and along with left guard Jonathan Cooper will be the foundation of the offensive line for the next five years.
As long as he comes to work every day and keeps Palmer upright and keeps those guys out of the backfield, he’ll be considered a success here. It won’t take much. The bar isn’t high.