Aug 25, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints guard Tim Lelito (68) and center Brian de la Punte (60) listen to an audible by quarterback Drew Brees (9) against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
By now you’ve most likely heard that some of the New Orleans Saints’ players set to become free agents have been identified as priorities to return to the team in 2014. If you haven’t heard, let’s recap. The team has stated intentions to re-sign a host of free agents, which include linebacker Ramon Humber, wide receivers Robert Meachem and Joe Morgan, safety Rafael Bush, and linebacker Parys Haralson.
With the recent events of the weekend, it appears the team will not be able to reach a deal with right tackle Zach Strief.
Despite all of the talk about keeping existing players, there’s been one missing from all of these conversations, and that would be center Brian de la Puente, who is set to become one of many free agents to hit the open market on March 11th.
This begs the question, what in the world are the Saints going to do about a center?
Now that Browns center, Alex Mack, was taken off the open market, de la Puente, is being placed as the number one or two ranked free agent center with Packers’ Evan Dietrich-Smith. Despite that, I’d like to point out that if you Google Brian de la Puente, it’s hard to find so much as a rumor that a reported team is interested in him at this point. The first news I have found is as of this morning, and the interested party seems to be the New York Giants.
In 2013, de la Puente was retained by the Saints as a restricted free agent, after ranking as Pro Football Focus’ number two center. For his 2013 performance, de la Puente was basically sliced up in his run blocking protection.
"With De La Puente turning 29 before the season, interested teams will either have to accept the idea that he is simply good pass blocker who struggles in the run game, or bank on him regaining his form from 2012. The team that adds De La Puente to their roster will be getting a reliable player who, in the past three seasons, has not missed any time due to injury."
In all likelihood, the team will likely lean on second year undrafted rookie free agent Tim Lelito. After going undrafted, the Grand Valley State product served as the team’s backup at guard, center, and tackle for 2014. Lelito also played end on field goal attempts, and was a part of the wedge on kickoff returns.
Now, Lelito doesn’t automatically have the job, but will be a huge front-runner in training camp to earn the starting gig. The Saints were extremely impressed with Lelito, which is why he made the team in the first place. If you can recall the preseason, the team would place him with the starters against the Texans, and Lelito would play well. He even actually scored a touchdown against the Dolphins, courtesy of a fumble recovery.
The Saints were rumored to possibly reunite with veteran Jonathan Goodwin, who left the team after the 2010 season to be with the San Francisco 49ers. However, the team is not planning to re-sign Goodwin. While it may be a stretch for the team to bring in a player via free agency, Goodwin is at least a familiar face, and could return to the Saints.
We’ll know more after the draft, and ultimately in training camp. Personally, I like Lelito’s chances. Also, he had one of the best stories of the season last year.
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