Cardinals turn up heat on O-line with Winston signing

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Cardinals coach Bruce Arians couldn’t say much about the addition of offensive tackle Eric Winston on Thursday because the move had not yet been announced.

He didn’t have to, as the move essentially speaks for itself.

In adding the veteran Winston, the Cardinals raised the stakes in the battle for starting spots on the offensive line, putting pressure on the returning tackles to step up in training camp.

Winston was not on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium as the Cardinals opened training camp with a brief conditioning test, so Arians offered nothing when asked how the 29-year-old fits with the team.

“I hope he fits,” Arians said. “Hopefully all that’s getting done with Steve (Keim, the Cardinals general manager) right now. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it’s finalizing, and I’ll have more to say about it later tonight or tomorrow.”

Winston himself confirmed the one-year, incentive-laden deal for the veteran’s minimum during an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier in the day.

“It was kind of a perfect storm for me in the sense that I could come in and compete for a spot and maybe be the guy at right tackle, and I feel like I will be,” Winston said in the interview.

That confirmed the expectation that Winston would compete with youngsters Bobby Massie and Nate Potter at right tackle. Massie struggled early last season, but by the end of the year, he had shown significant progress. He was the primary right tackle during organized team activities in the spring, with Potter backing up him and left tackle Levi Brown.

If the competition at right tackle is between Winston, Massie and Potter, there’s a good chance one of three won’t make the roster out of camp. But there are deeper questions to be asked.

Reports surfaced recently that Cardinals coaches were not satisfied with what they saw from Brown in OTAs. Brown missed all of last season with a torn triceps muscle and was still rehabbing at that point, but the addition of Winston puts the heat on Brown as well.

Arians was asked Thursday if he saw anything during OTAs that made him think the team needed to bring in another offensive tackle.

“Not really,” Arians said. “It’s just a matter of if there’s somebody out there that will make our football team better, that’s our job to go get him. The more competition, the better.”

Arians did say all his offensive linemen must improve.

“I was satisfied with what I saw on film more so than what I saw on the field,” Arians said. “They’ve got to improve. But I always give offensive linemen the benefit of the doubt in shorts. That’s not their game. You put the pads on, get physical, then it changes.”

Brown declined to speak with reporters after Thursday’s conditioning test.

Could Winston end up starting at right tackle, with an improved Massie shifting to the left side? It seems like a possibility. Either way, the addition of Winston gives the Cardinals more depth on the offensive line, and that depth means more pressure to perform over the next month.

Or perhaps we’re reading too much into the addition of Winston. Perhaps, as Arians suggested, the signing was simply about adding a quality veteran at a bargain price and elevating the level of competition in camp.

Winston, in the SiriusXM interview, clearly understood nothing is being handed to him.

“I’m kind of going into this wide-eyed and knowing that I’ve got to compete and win another spot like I have the last seven years,” Winston said. “That’s just the way my mindset is.”

Winston started all 16 games for Kansas City last season after signing a four-year, $22.5 million deal but was cut when the Chiefs underwent a front office shakeup and drafted offensive tackle Eric Fisher No. 1 overall in the draft in April. He’s hoping the low-risk chance the Cardinals have taken on him turns into something more.

“You always want more than one year, but that’s the way it goes,” Winston said. “I can show them what I’m about and they can see what I’m about, and hopefully that turns into some sort of multi-year deal.”

It’s unusual for a player like Winston, who has been productive in 80 straight starts dating to 2007 with the Texans, to be available this late, though he has been a salary-cap casualty twice.

The Cardinals talked with Winston in the spring but decided not to sign him. His addition now seems to mean either his price has come down or the Cardinals were concerned about what they already had at the position.

Whichever it is should become clear by the end of camp, but either way, the Cardinals just made things interesting at the tackle positions.