Cardinals' answer at center can be found in A.Q. Shipley

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The battle for center has quietly become one of the Arizona Cardinals' most hotly-contested positions this offseason -- and organized team activities don't begin for another two months.

Incumbent starter Lyle Sendlein is likely to become a free agent at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, which would leave the position up for grabs. There was chatter last week about the Cardinals trying Jonathan Cooper at center, as well as giving Earl Watford a chance to win the job. Then there's always the possibility of a free agent crashing the party.

But the Cardinals may have had their next center on the roster this whole time.

A.Q. Shipley beat out Ted Larsen for the job last offseason after Arizona cut Sendlein, and then held onto his first-team role after Sendlein re-signed a week into training camp. It was only before Week 1 that the starting job was ripped from Shipley's hands and given back to Sendlein, who owned it for the previous seven seasons.

With Sendlein not in the picture, Shipley is Arizona's safest bet.

He proved it last year against Philadelphia, when he started at center in place of an injured Sendlein. That game, Arizona ran for season highs of 230 yards -- its most in four seasons -- and three touchdowns on 39 attempts in a 40-17 demolition of the Eagles. It was the only time the Cardinals eclipsed 200 yards in a game all year -- and rookie David Johnson set a career high that game with 187 yards.

The rest of season is an incomplete database to evaluate Shipley because he only saw 23 snaps at center aside from Week 15. But a look into his history shows when he starts, good things happen in the run game.

He started the first four games of the 2014 season for the Indianapolis Colts, who rushed for 169, 144 and 105 in Weeks 2-4. During those four games, Shipley was the third-ranked enter in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. In Week 3 that season, he was ranked No. 1 by the site. Then he was benched for a rookie and the Colts managed five 100-yard games the final 12 weeks of the season.

He's not a first-round draft pick or seasoned veteran, but Shipley's résumé shows a proven track record.

Teams want proof.

The Cardinals have it right in front of them.