The Saints saw solid production from their offensive line in 2013, especially from the three hogs in the middle.
Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs were rewarded for their stellar play with Pro Bowl selections, while the most underrated center (perhaps even offensive lineman) in the game continued to turn in excellent performance after excellent performance.
Fans of the Saints know just how important Brian De La Puente is to Drew Brees and the offense at large, and we can only hope that the front office sees him in the same light. More affectionately known as ‘The Bridge’ (due to his last name roughly translating to ‘of the bridge’ in Spanish) De La Puente has been an anchor in the middle of the line for three years now, earning a nod from Pro Football Focus as the second best center in the league in 2012.
Set to become an unrestricted free agent, reaching a deal with De La Puente is right on par with coming to terms with right tackle Zach Strief. Should The Bridge end up hitting the free agent market he’ll be set to make quite a bit of money, while the Saints will be left with a massive hole to fill.
Luckily for New Orleans, they may not have to look to far to fill it.
Tim Lelito has been with the team for two years and the coaching staff is excited about his improvement. Although no one would go as far as to say he’s better than De La Puente, he at least provides them with a replacement that they can be optimistic about without having to look to free agency or the draft.
That being said, if Lelito is forced into starting duty the depth at offensive guard/center immediately becomes an issue.
It’s been clear that the Saints will keep an eye on offensive lineman in the draft; in fact, if both Strief and De La Puente walk it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see them spend their first round pick to sure up one of those holes. The ideal situation would be to keep both of their veterans and use middle-to-late round picks to bring in young talent while also creating depth. That model would certainly fit their style, especially considering that three out of their five starting offensive lineman last year were drafted by New Orleans (and don’t forget they also drafted Carl Nicks and Jermon Bushrod before both took off to free agency).
The interior line position is an interesting one in that there really doesn’t seem to be a need there unless De La Puente walks, and even then the need is depth not necessarily immediate starting-caliber talent. That being said, we should have more definitive answers soon, as the beginning of free agency is now less than a week away.
For a look at the potential rookies the Saints could replace De La Puente with, click here.