After finishing 7-9, there’s a lot of areas that need improvement if the Saints want to have a concrete shot at another deep run in the playoffs next year. Fixing an underachieving, aging offensive line should be as high a priority as there are for this team. Keeping a clean pocket for Drew Brees is key for the success of Sean Payton’s offense. Let’s break down the five starters to begin our analysis.
LT Terron Armstead (23)
Armstead was easily the best offensive lineman for the Saints in 2014. Drew Brees’ blindside is well protected on passing plays and the young left tackle is also a very good run blocker, especially on screen plays and “toss” run plays where he can show his great athleticism.
LG Ben Grubbs (30)
Grubbs had a poor 2014 season, to say the least. Both run blocking and pass protection were inconsistent. According to overthecap.com Grubbs was the 2nd-highest paid left guard last season but what we saw on the field was a below-average player.
C Jonathan Goodwin (36)
Having Goody back after a couple of years was a great story, especially for the fans, but his level of play in 2014 was nowhere near when he left New Orleans for Frisco. Add to that a ton of injuries that bothered him all season long and we can safely say his season was a disaster.
RG Jahri Evans (31)
Despite a couple of very, very bad performances Evans didn’t have a trainwreck of a season. He certainly did not play like a $11-million guard but his run blocking was effective.
RT Zach Strief (31)
Strief got beat every now and then but overall he’s been a consistent player in 2014 and his great football IQ will allow him to play a few more years.
1) Cut either Grubbs or Evans, say goodbye to Goodwin
Even if they both underperformed last season the Saints simply can’t afford to lose both. Cutting Grubbs would save the team around $3,000,000 while letting Evans go would impact the salary cap with a relief of $6,000,000.
In my opinion the ideal solution would be to get rid of Grubbs and restructure/extend Evans’ contract so that his cap hit is less important.
The only scenario I see with Goodwin in black and gold in 2015 is the one where he comes back at a minimal one-year deal to give the team some depth/experience. Otherwise, he’s done.
2) Look for a FA replacement
The Saints are thin as far as backup offensive linemen and losing a guy there calls for an immediate replacement. Among free agents Mike Iupati from the Niners would be the best option but I’m not sure the Saints can afford to sign him. Here’s a list of soon-to-be free agents guards, according to nfl.com:
Clint Boling, Cincinnati Bengals
James Brewer, New York Giants
James Carpenter, Seattle Seahawks
Daryn Colledge, Miami Dolphins
Willie Colon, New York Jets
Dan Connolly, New England Patriots
Vladimir Ducasse, Minnesota Vikings
Orlando Franklin, Denver Broncos
Mike Iupati, San Francisco 49ers
John Jerry, New York Giants
Mike Johnson, Atlanta Falcons
Davin Joseph, St. Louis Rams
Mike McGlynn, Kansas City Chiefs
Erik Pears, Buffalo Bills
Will Rackley, Baltimore Ravens
Jah Reid, Baltimore Ravens
Rob Sims, Detroit Lions
3) Draft a young interior OL early
Even if the Saints find a replacement via free agency drafting an interior lineman in the first three (possibly two) rounds is a must: this unit needs to get younger and the Saints can’t wait anymore to get some good, young players there.
4) Start Tim Lelito at Center/Guard
Lelito replaced Goodwin when he was injured and he actually did OK. If he’s given the starting job since training camp I think he’ll gain even more confidence and will be a quality NFL starter.
If the Saints decide to draft a Center and start him right away (not likely in my opinion) Lelito can be shifted at Guard, a position he’s already familiar with in this offense.
Do you think these could the right moves? Any suggestions?