Multiple reports say that free agent center Jonathan Goodwin is set to sign with the New Orleans Saints. Mike Triplett of ESPN.com says the two sides could formally announce the deal as early as Tuesday.
Goodwin of course was the Saints’ regular starting center for three seasons previously, from 2008-10. He spent the past three seasons as the starting center for the dynamic and run-heavy San Francisco 49ers.
The move was expected earlier in the offseason when Goodwin visited the Saints prior to the draft on April 16. It became increasingly likely when the Saints eschewed the center position in the draft.
It is widely thought that Goodwin is mostly being brought in to compete with incumbent starter Tim Lelito—who has started exactly zero games in the NFL at the center position. At 35 years of age, Goodwin isn’t the answer for the Saints in the future, but many analysts see him as a potential answer for a year.
And there is reason to believe that Goodwin may be brought in as more than just competition.
Pro Football Focus had Goodwin ranked as the No. 4 center in the 2014 Free Agent class—and the No. 16 overall veteran Free Agent as of March 26.
Playing 1,001 snaps in 2013 for the 49ers, PFF graded him at +5.8—just 0.3 points behind the Saints starter a year ago, Brian de la Puente. PFF concludes that Goodwin is a below average pass protector based on their rating system, but a highly effective run blocker.
In 2013 Goodwin allowed four sacks, but was only caught holding once. In 2012, he gave up only 2.5 sacks but was caught holding three times, according to the Washington Post.
Of course, Goodwin knows the Saints’ pass protection schemes as well as their run blocking schemes. This is not a move of desperation, as much as it a smart move to bring in a player who could contribute immediately as a starter.
At 6’3”, 318 pounds, Goodwin brings great size to the position in addition to his experience. That size translates to physicality—a much needed ingredient for effective offensive line play.
But the real question is simple: Will he start, be a backup, or even make the roster?
My guess is that if he doesn’t win the starting center job, he’ll be released. There really isn’t much reason to keep him around if he is unable to play. The Saints already have too many good players who won’t make the roster. Wasting a roster spot on a veteran center who would only play if for an injury makes little sense.
That said, if Goodwin is named the starter anytime between now and September 7, Tim Lelito will still make the 53-man roster. Lelito is probably the future at center. Goodwin is not.
The reasoning for why Goodwin might start is itself pretty simple. Centers can play well into their mid- and even late-thirties. Even more in the Saints’ system that is true due to the requirements of a center in Sean Payton’s system.
Rarely is the center asked to pull or get to the second level. Instead he is asked to anchor and protect his gaps “in a phone booth”. In other words, the center in Payton’s system doesn’t need to be a great athlete, he just needs to maul.
Goodwin has long been able to do that. Surrounded by great athletes along the rest of the line—headed up by first-year starting left tackle Terron Armstead—Goodwin can be the rock in the middle who holds his ground and keeps Drew Brees’ immediate line of sight in front of him clean.
The middle of the pocket has been the area where defenses have had the most success in rushing Brees since Goodwin left for the greener pastures of San Francisco in 2011.
The truth is that whoever mans the middle of the offensive line in 2014, that player is going to have to do just that. Otherwise, Brees will be under pressure just as much as he was in 2013.
Goodwin is capable and has the experience. We’ll find out in the next couple months if he’s the choice.