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New Orleans Saints Offseason Needs: Offensive Line

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We’re back with another installment of the glaring needs for the New Orleans Saints heading into the 2015 NFL Offseason. We started with cornerback, moved to linebacker, took a detour to kicker, and now we look at position the Saints have some obvious questions marks in: Offensive Line.

Oct 19, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New Orleans Saints center Jonathan Goodwin (55) is carted off the field after suffering an apparent injury during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

I’m hoping that we can mutually agree that the interior part of the offensive line was the fatal flaw for 2014, as Jonathan Goodwin was blown up and tossed like a rag doll in more than one sitting, and Jahri Evans/Ben Grubbs had their respective opportunities. While we completely respect and appreciate what ‘Goody’ brought to the 2014 season, especially through his dedication and toughness, we know that the team will be looking else where for an answer at center.

Drew Brees was sacked 29 times last season, which was not a career high (see 2013 – 37 sacks), but it was well more than we’d prefer. Sixteen of Brees’ sacks were at home, with nine multi-sack games. Brees went down four times in games against the Panthers (28-10 win) and Ravens (34-27 loss), and five times in the Dome finale against the Falcons (30-14). One encouraging note for many Saints fans is the fact that the team was the second least penalized team this season, finishing behind the Jacksonville Jaguars.

While proving to be effective in the run department after finishing in the top half of the NFL with a 13th ranking (113.6 yards/game), the interior part of the line may experience challenges with some new faces in 2015. As per Pro Football Focus, the Saints offensive line still graded out strong for 2014, finishing 11th overall.

Offensive Line Overiew

Saints Free Agents: Senio Kelemete – Guard (Re-signed), Bryce Harris – Tackle (RFA), Jonathan Goodwin – Center (UFA)

Remaining Guards: Ben Grubbs, Jahri Evans, Andrew Miller (Future/Reserve)

Remaining Tackles: Terron Armstead, Zach Strief, Nick Becton

Remaining Centers: Tim Lelito, Mike Brewster (Future/Reserve)

The Saints face some extremely tough decisions in regards to the salary cap on their two guards, Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Both have heavy charges to the Saints salary cap in 2015, commanding $20.6 million in space together. They’ll also need to figure out their future at center.

Who’s Available?

Seasoned Veterans of Interest Available:

  • Centers: Will Montgomery (31), Dominic Raiola (36), Joe Berger (32), Samson Satele (30), Brian De La Puente (30)
  • Guards: Dan Connolly (32), Rob Sims (31)

Younger Experience Well Worth a Look:

  • Centers: Eric Olsen (26), Stefen Wisniewski (25), Rodney Hudson (26)
  • Guards: Mike Iupati (27), Orlando Franklin (27), Clint Boling (26), James Carpenter (26)

There’s not a better way to put this, but the pickings are somewhat slim for the center position if the Saints are looking to address the void through free agency. However, the team may not need to necessarily fill the spot through free agency.

Why didn’t I include tackles? Because I don’t believe that’s an immediate need for the Saints. I firmly believe that Terron Armstead and Zach Strief are the answers. The only knock you could bring to Strief is the durability aspect, but that suggests that there is a greater need for a quality reserve behind him.

Draft Prospects: La’el Collins (LSU), Ali Marpet (Hobart), Brandon Scherff (Iowa)

We’ve talked at length about all three of the respective draft prospects. Marpet figures to be the highest climber of the bunch, but Collins and Scherff are going to be day one selections. In my first ‘way too early’ mock draft, I had the Saints taking Marpet (a steal) in the fifth round.

Dream Scenario Signing: Stefen Wisniewski, The Draft

Personal Pick: Stefen Wisniewski, La’el Collins

At pick No. 13, the Saints will have an interesting decision to make. Take a page from the Dallas Cowboys and build up your offensive line, or worry about bolstering the defense. At the end of the day, I believe the Saints stick to the defensive side of the ball. The struggles in pass protection could be aided by getting a stronger center in the mix. I feel good about having Tim Lelito in the mix for a guard or center. I’ve talked about Wisniewski joining the team through free agency as a center, and I believe he would be a great add in the offseason.

If the Saints truly solve their immediate needs for a cornerback and edge rusher through free agency, then La’el Collins figures to be a no-brainer for the first round selection. Of course, this is all speculation. A lot needs to happen between now and the NFL Draft at the end of April for that to even be a possibility.

What do you see the Saints best course of action for the offensive line? Should the team look to lock up a big name, young up and comer, or turn to the draft? Sound off below!

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