As we continue on with our free agent spotlights, we turn our attention to the much beleaguered offensive line. Although the victim of the ire and vitriol of many fans, the offensive line isn’t quite as weak as many believe. That’s not to say it doesn’t need improvement. As we discussed with Ryan Jensen here, the offensive line is the only position group on the field that has to work in perfect unison or the entire thing falls apart. And, as Jensen pointed out, the Bucs had a top five passing offense - that doesn’t happen if the O-Line isn’t doing something right.
All that said, Bruce Arians has turned a lot of his attention to the offensive line publicly, referencing the need for improvement. So why not turn to a familiar face?
Mike Iupati’s Career
Drafted in the first round, seventeenth overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2010, Iupati has been a reliable starter in this league for nearly a decade. Unfortunately, he’s been devastated by injuries over the past few seasons, limiting his playing time immensely - including playing in only fifteen games over the last two seasons. Iupati has been named All-Pro and second team All-Pro one time each in his career as well as being elected to four Pro Bowls.
Why The Buccaneers Need Him
Well, here’s the thing - Iupati has played left guard throughout his career. Plain and simple - the Buccaneers don’t need a left guard. However, if Iupati would be up for switching to right guard or if Ali Marpet is up for his fourth position in as many years, Iupati would improve the offensive line immediately.
I’m not exactly a proponent of Marpet moving positions again, but Caleb Benenoch isn’t exactly cutting it on the right side. The Bucs need someone on that side to help an aging Demar Dotson and not place so much pressure on Jensen to overcompensate for the weakness.
The other thing to bear in mind is that, at this stage in his career, Iupati may be better suited to be a depth piece rather than a starter. With his injury riddled past few seasons, Iupati’s body may not be able to withstand the grind of an every week starter. Giving the Bucs that kind of flexibility with a depth signing of Iupati’s skill level.
What Will Iupati Cost?
The Cardinals voided the final year of his contract, worth $3.7-million. Over his career, Iupati has averaged $4.64-million annually. Plain and simple - his free agent haul will not reach either of those numbers. Iupati is going to find himself being one of the bargains for whichever team signs him. He’s likely to get in the $2.5-3-million range as it is unlikely he will be signed as a starter. He will be the candidate of receiving a “prove it” deal given his recent injury history.
Will It Happen?
I definitely see this one as a possibility. Iupati has a familiarity with Arians as well as offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. If the Bucs snag him on the affordable “prove it” deal, he would provide a veteran presence and a reliable depth piece. If the Buccaneers can’t find a better option than Benenoch, they may experiment with Iupati on the right side. However, he would be best suited to fill in in case someone gets injured as his starting days are likely over.