Saints center Max Unger went under the knife to help fix an issue with his foot, and that surgery will cause him to miss the start of the season. With no exact timetable in place for his return, the Saints will likely consider out-of-house options to help fill the void.
With some help from PFR’s Dallas Robinson, here are centers that New Orleans could look into acquiring:
- Nick Mangold (free agent): Mangold remains on the open market and he stands as the most obvious choice for the Saints to consider. The Saints would be hard-pressed to find anyone with a resume as impressive as Mangold’s and the seven-time Pro Bowler probably wouldn’t cost all that much at this stage of the offseason. At the same time, there’s a reason why he is still available here in May and word of clubs asking him to change positions isn’t exactly encouraging.
- Jason Kelce (Eagles): Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com was quick to connect the dots on Monday morning after word of Unger’s injury broke. The Eagles reportedly have had Kelce on the trading block for some time now and the Saints would now be a logical landing spot for him. The Eagles beat writer suggests that a Kelce deal could see running back Mark Ingram going to Philly, but I personally have a hard time seeing that happen. If the Saints are unable to meet the Eagles’ asking price for Kelce, however, they might be able to swing a deal for another interesting option on their roster.
- Stefen Wisniewski (Eagles): If the Eagles were to trade Kelce, Wisniewski or guard Isaac Seumalo would be the top candidates to step into the starting role. However, Wisniewski himself would make lots of sense as a stopgap for the Saints. Wisniewski was a starter for five straight years with the Raiders and Jaguars before landing with the Eagles as a reserve. In addition to that starting experience, he also offers experience at guard, so he could be used at multiple spots once Unger returns to action. Pro Football Focus ranked him 39th among 72 eligible guards last season with strong marks for his pass blocking skills.
- Joe Hawley (Buccaneers): The Buccaneers are moving Ali Marpet to center and he could very well wind up as the starter. There’s also Evan Dietrich-Smith and guard/tackle Ken Pamphile to consider for the No. 1 job and that could make Hawley expendable. The 28-year-old (29 in October) has been the Bucs’ primary center for the last two years, but he could be on the outside looking in after camp concludes. This offseason, he re-signed with the team on a two-year, $5.5MM deal with just $1MM guaranteed. It’s an affordable deal that the Saints could easily wiggle out of next year, if need be. Alternatively, the Bucs may want to dangle Dietrich-Smith in New Orleans’ direction.
- Tim Barnes (49ers): Barnes just showed up in San Francisco, but indications are that the Niners will use Jeremy Zuttah as their starting center in 2o17. Before getting cut this offseason, Barnes spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons as the Rams’ starter. Another Niner, Daniel Kilgore, could have appeal for the Saints.
- Cameron Erving (Browns): The Browns are planning to move Erving to right tackle now that J.C. Tretter is in town, but perhaps the Saints would be interested in seeing what he can do in the middle. Then again, he was shifted to right tackle last year after performing poorly in 12 games at center.
- Matt Slauson (Chargers): Slauson isn’t guaranteed to start this year thanks to the presence of Max Tuerk, Forrest Lamp, and Dan Feeney. All three players are rookies (Tuerk didn’t play in 2016 thanks to his knee injury) but the team is high on each of them. In theory, Slauson could be shifted over to guard with Tuerk starting in the middle, but it’s also possible that Feeney starts at right guard over him. Slauson would be a valuable swing reserve for Los Angeles, but the Bolts might also be willing to trade him thanks to their glut of O-Line options.
- Joe Berger (Vikings): Vikings coach Mike Zimmer sees third round rookie Pat Elflein as a center, and that could potentially make Berger expendable. Berger, 35 later this month, has started 68 games over the course of his career. He graded out as the 12th best guard in the entire NFL last season, according to PFF. He earned an even stronger overall score in 2015 when he primarily played in the middle. Berger still has plenty in the tank, so it would be harder to pry him away than some of the other names on this list.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.