Who Dat Dish has been doing a free agent profile on each of the position groups on the New Orleans Saints. Today, we wrap up the offensive side of the ball with a look at the Saints offensive line. The line is looked at as the foundation of a smooth running offense, and the New Orleans line rebounded in a big way in 2016.
Coming into training camp, the O-line was viewed as one of the weakest spots on the New Orleans Saints, and certainly on the offensive side. With a 36yr old quarterback in Drew Brees, the prospect of a dominant offense was worrying. Instead, the offensive line showed surprising consistency against some of the best pass-rushing defenses in the league. The position does have its issues, however. Age, depth, injury and youth development are all major concerns heading into the 2017 offseason. Let’s have a look at the Saints offensive line, the players on the roster, contract priorities, and free agent possibilities.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN ON THE ROSTER
New Orleans has a veteran group here, but not without questions. Left tackle Terron Armstead is one of the best in the game… when healthy. The problem is that Armstead has struggled with injury in each of the last two seasons. He is, without
Left tackle Terron Armstead is one of the best in the game… when healthy.
The problem is that Armstead has struggled with injury in each of the last two seasons. He is, without doubt, a warrior. He often attempts to play through injuries. Unfortunately, the 25yr old Armstead plays one of the most challenging positions in football. The 4-year pro is expected to make a full recovery from the variety of ailments that have plagued him. His return to the lineup is vital.
Right tackle Zach Strief had perhaps one of his finest years in 2016 and held up better than anyone anticipated.
The 33yr old Strief is nearing the end of a solid 11yr career, and the Saints would be wise to prepare a replacement fast.
The Saints hoped that the replacement for Strief would come in the way of 2015 12th overall selection Andrus Peat.
Peat played poorly in his rookie year, but fared a bit better in 2016. The coaching staff had moved Peat inside as a guard. But they often had to slide him over to left tackle, with the injuries to Armstead. The 23yr old Stanford product had moments of solid play, but more is expected of a first round pick. Peat will be at a career crossroads entering 2017.
Center Max Unger is a consummate pro.
The 30yr old Unger arrived in New Orleans two years ago as part of the Jimmy Graham trade to Seattle, and has anchored the line like a pro bowler since. He and Armstead are two solid foundations with which to build an all-star line.
Guard Senio Kelemete is perhaps the Saints most versatile offensive lineman. Kelemete logged starts at left
Kelemete logged starts at left guard, but is also capable of playing center or even sliding out to right tackle. The 4 year pro from Washington may not be an all-pro, but he’s a solid swing lineman who can be a spot starter.
2016 rookies Landon Turner and Jack Allen were both projected to go in the top half of last year’s draft.
They instead fell to New Orleans as undrafted free agents. Turner logged solid play time at guard as the season progressed, and showed signs of a productive future. Allen had a decent preseason, but spent most of the regular season on the Saints practice squad. Both will be given plenty of opportunity heading into next year.
SAINTS FREE AGENT LINEMEN
Jahri Evans–age 33
Evans is one of the best offensive linemen to ever wear a Saints uniform. Early in the year, it seemed that the 11year veteran’s career might be over. After 2 seasons of declining play and a high salary, the Saints released him in the offseason. He signed with Seattle, but they cut him just before the regular season. Finally, Evans returned to New Orleans on a1-yearr, affordable deal. The six time pro bowler immediately stabilized the offensive line. Evans and Strief teamed up to make the right side of the Saints line a power running strength.
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What the Saints decide to do with Evans, and both guard positions in general, will be one of the major storylines of the off season. Evans has expressed a desire to finish his career in New Orleans. Still, the Saints would be wise to bring in a number of skilled young interior linemen.
Tim Lelito–age 27
Lelito has had numerous chances to nail down either of the starting guard positions, yet has failed every time. The4yr veteran’s play has been uneven at best. At times, he’s been a severe liability. New Orleans will likely let him hit the free agent market and pursue better options.
FREE AGENT POSSIBILITIES
Kevin Zeitler, OG (age 26–Bengals)
Zeitler is precisely the type of “mauler” that the Saints love inside. The 5th year product from Wisconsin consistently graded out as one of the Bengals most efficient linemen. Zeitler will probably be one of the most coveted linemen in free agency, likely to seek a 5year contract worth 11-12 million per year. With his age and skill level, we could see New Orleans move quickly on him.
Ronald Leary, OG (age 27–Cowboys)
Leary has been linked to the Saints in rumors for well over a year, first in trade rumors and now free agency. The four year veteran has been a big contributor on a dominant Dallas line. The Cowboys are likely to let Leary test the market, due to the fact that they have good depth across their line. Like Zeitler, Leary’s youth and proven ability will dictate a multi-year deal, probably in the neighborhood of 9-10 million per season.
Chance Womack, OG (age 25–Titans)
The 10th overall selection from Alabama in the 2013 draft certainly has the pedigree. Unfortunately, Womack has not produced at near the level expected from him. The 6’2 317lb Womack has struggled with his footwork and disappointed as a run blocker. He is definitely not considered among the “first tier” free agents that will be prioritized. Given his youth and background, a change of scenery might prompt Womack to flourish.
TJ Lang, OG (age 29–Packers)
Lang has had a productive career for a pass-happy Green Bay offense. A closer look will reveal that Green Bay had struggled with protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers up the middle. This caused the Pack to be more reliant on the improvisation of Rodgers, and to call more designed roll-outs. Lang has also been publicly critical of Green Bay management, probably resulting in him hitting the open market. The 8yr veteran will expect a top end salary, but could very well slip into the second half of the free agent period before he signs.
OFFENSIVE LINE OUTLOOK
Expect the Saints to make a couple of significant moves here. It’s possible that they will bring back Jahri Evans on a 1yr deal, if the price is reasonable. If New Orleans manages to snag one of the coveted guards, then they would probably give Andrus Peat another shot at right tackle, and likely draft a tackle in the 3rd/4th round. They seem to really like the potential of Landon Turner, and will probably let Lelito walk. This is where I expect the Saints to make their biggest free agent splash. PREDICTION: The New Orleans Saints sign Kevin Zeitler to a mult-year contract within the first day or two of free agency worth around 12 million per season.
OFF SEASON PRIORITY = HIGH
Next, Who Dat Dish will begin our look at the Saints defense position by position.