Arizona Cardinals appear to be looking in-house to find starting center
By Jim Koch
The starting center for the 2023 Arizona Cardinals may already be occupying a spot on the team's current roster.
Sometime in the near future, the Arizona Cardinals will reveal who their starting center will be for the upcoming season. Veteran Rodney Hudson assumed that role for the past two seasons, but injuries and age ultimately caught up to the now broken-down 33-year-old.
Arizona general manager Monti Ossenfort got an early start on finding a replacement for Hudson back in March, when he inked free agent Hjalte Froholdt to a two-year contract. The 26-year-old, a native of Denmark, has a familiarity with offensive coordinator Drew Petzing from the time they spent together with the Cleveland Browns. Froholdt took part in 583 offensive line snaps in 2022, 383 of which came at center for the Browns.
When the draft rolled around a couple of weeks back, many Cardinals followers believed that Ossenfort would address the issue with one of the nation's top prospects. Those same fans were disappointed, however, when the club passed on highly-touted centers like Joe Tippmann, John Michael Schmitz, Steve Avila, and Luke Wypler. Would the front office get through the entire three-day event without selecting a youngster who could potentially anchor the Redbirds blocking unit in 2023?
They did not. In Round 4, the Cards nabbed Jon Gaines II, a versatile lineman out of UCLA who was utilized mostly at guard for the Bruins. Later on we learned that Gaines did spend some time at center as well during his five campaigns at the school.
The one holdover from the prior regime who has been mentioned in conversations about this partcular dilemma is Lecitus Smith, a second-year pro who started two matchups at guard for the team last fall. When Hudson's knee began to fail last year, the 6 foot 3, 315 pound Smith was in the mix to replace him. That being the case, there's reason to believe that the 24-year-old will be included in a competition with both Froholdt and Gaines for Arizona's starting center gig.
Arizona Cardinals could still look elsewhere to fill the void at the center position
If all else fails, Ossenfort could once again scour the free-agent market for a first-string pivot. Ben Jones, a Pro Bowler from the Tennessee Titans, is a candidate that would make a whole lot of sense for the Arizona Cardinals. It just so happens that Ossenfort served as Tennessee's Director of player personnel for the past three years (2020-22).
There are a couple of other free-agent options that the Cards could still explore as well. Chase Roullier, a 29-year-old who was released by the Washington Commanders last week, has 63 NFL starts at center under his belt. Pat Elflein, a 28-year-old who was cut by the Carolina Panthers this past March, has 64 starts on his professional resume.
For now, Froholdt appears to be the odds-on favorite to win the job. At the same time, Gaines and Smith will also be handed an opportunity to unseat him. From the looks of things, Arizona will more than likely allow the drama at center to continue on deep into the summer.
(Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference)