Saints center Max Unger will start the season on the physical unable to perform list after injuring his foot.
It’s a huge blow to the Saints offense. Despite additions across the line that had the Saints primed to withstand one or two major injuries, they have few options at center. Max Unger has one of the Saints’ best lineman since coming to New Orleans. And he’s been far and away their most dependable.
In his stead, Senio Kelemete and Jack Allen will likely compete to start. Kelemete is a swing lineman who has played very well for the Saints at guard and tackle. But he’s never been asked to fill in at center. In the past that’s been Tim Lelito’s role. But the Saints let Lelito walk as a free agent this offseason. Jack Allen was a highly regarded UDFA signing last year. But the Michigan Center struggled through the preseason and spent the year on the practice squad.
Their may be some hope that Allen can emerge as a competent starter while Unger recovers. Lack of size pushed him off draft boards, but analytics had Unger as one of the most effective centers in college football by the end of his career.
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Still, the Saints will almost certainly look to add some bodies at center. They have cap space to sign a few talented veterans. Nick Mangold tops the list of available centers. Expect the Saints to bring him for a tryout in the coming weeks.
It may be harder to coax a target like Mangold to New Orleans considering the talented vet likely wants a secured starting gig. Unger is one of the best in the business, and if he recovers from the injury will be a lock to start. But that said, we don’t yet know the severity of Unger’s injury. If it’s is a lisfranc injury, he’ll miss more than the start of the season. For such a talented lineman I doubt it puts his career with the Saints in jeopardy. But if he misses the season the Saints need to find a replacement, and fast.