Cardinals Sign Starting Offensive Lineman, Lose 2021 Starter

Steve Keim

Getty Images General manager Steve Keim looks on before a game in 2019.

After two weeks since the legal tampering period began on March 14, the Arizona Cardinals are adding their first offensive free agent from outside of the organization.

According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the Cardinals are signing ex-New York Giants guard Will Hernandez.

Garafolo notes the relationship between Hernandez and Cardinals offensive line coach Sean Kugler, who coached Hernandez in college at UTEP.

The Cardinals hosted a free-agent visit with Hernandez on March 24, who started all 17 games at right guard in 2021. The 2018 second-round pick has started 56 of 62 games with the Giants and missed only three games in 2020.

Hernandez comes in as the likely new starting right guard for the Cardinals. The Cardinals and Giants have switched guards, as NFL insider Jordan Schultz reports free agent lineman Max Garcia is signing a one-year deal with New York.

The Cardinals officially announced the Hernandez signing through Twitter.

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Hernandez’s History

The former second-round pick Hernandez had up-and-down moments in his first two seasons. The 26-year-old Hernandez allowed just two sacks in 2019, but also struggled mightily in run protection (45.7 grade per PFF).

Hernandez missed two games in 2020 due to Covid and was never placed back into the starting lineup. In 2021, Hernandez started all 17 games at right guard and was graded 60th out of 82 guards. He allowed seven sacks and committed eight penalties as well.

While Hernandez has played most of his NFL snaps at left guard, the Cardinals could be banking on Kugler to help re-shape Hernandez’s career. Kugler is also a run game coordinator and could help Hernandez’s struggles in that area.

Garcia, now a Giant, posted a 54.3 PFF grade in 2021. In the last three games, including the playoffs, the Cardinals gave up a combined eight sacks. The Cardinals needed a solution at the right guard spot. Arizona’s offensive line should be penciled in with tackles D.J. Humphries, center Rodney Hudson and left guard Justin Pugh. But with Josh Jones and Justin Murray as the only right guards on the depth chart, the Cardinals were looking for any possible answer.

The Cardinals have also plucked from the Giants in the past, when Pugh signed a five-year, $45 million contract with Arizona in 2018.

Hernandez Talks to Media

Over The Cap shows the Cardinals with $7.7 million in cap space. While Hernandez’s financials haven’t come out yet, it appears the latest signing is a classic buy-low opportunity for the Cardinals.

Hernandez spoke to the media after officially signing with the Cardinals and couldn’t be happier joining forces with Kugler.

“I am very excited to be able to play under Coach Kugler again,” said Hernandez. “I feel like he’s one of the main reasons I made it to the NFL in the first place. We have a very strong connection and relationship.”

Despite signing just a one-year deal, Hernandez is ready to prove his worth in Arizona.

“I’m not going to sit here and demand anything,” Hernandez added. “My mentality is to come out here, show why I deserve (a long-term deal) and then get it done.”

The Las Vegas, Nevada native is Mexican-American and thinks playing in Arizona is a great fit.

“Arizona is very near and dear to my heart,” Hernandez said. “I grew in up Las Vegas but I traveled to Phoenix a lot. I like the people, the fans, the team.”

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