In three years of professional football, interior offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz has struggled to live up to his first-round potential. Despite the Saints essentially echoing that sentiment by declining his fifth-year option, general manager Mickey Loomis seems to have implied that Ruiz still has a future with the team, according to Jeff Nowak of Audacy Sports.
After excelling as a pass-blocking center at Michigan in college, Ruiz hasn’t been able to find the same success at the NFL level. He has spent most of his time in New Orleans as the team’s primary right guard while filling in at times at his old center position. Ruiz found starts as a rookie thanks to injuries to Andrus Peat and Nick Easton and became a full time starter in his sophomore season.
He’s started every game he’s appeared in since taking over as a starter but has missed four games over his career, including three to end the 2022 regular season. Ruiz suffered a Lisfranc injury that held him out of the team’s final games of the year. He hasn’t practiced since the injury but was scheduled this week for a procedure to remove hardware from the initial surgery to repair his foot. The follow-up procedure was set to take place yesterday, according to Jeff Duncan of nola.com, which should give him enough recovery time to be back for training camp.
Given his on-field and injury struggles, it’s hard to see where his future lies with the Saints. According to Nowak, Loomis referred to Ruiz as an “ascending player,” saying he has high expectations for the fourth-year player. So why decline his fifth-year option?
Declining Ruiz’s fifth-year option makes 2023 a contract year for the lineman. He’ll have one year to prove he deserves a fifth year with the team and beyond. This season, he’ll need to prove that he is improving and ascending, as his general manager hopes. He’ll also need to display an ability to rebound from the season-ending injury from last year. Lisfranc injuries have a tendency to linger, but if Ruiz’s health holds up throughout the season, Nowak feels that an eventual extension is inevitable.
New Orleans signed veteran center Billy Price this week, as well. The move could be insurance in case Ruiz is unable to recover fully. It could also be in service of the goal to keep Ruiz at guard full-time. Without Price, Ruiz is the team’s primary backup at center behind Erik McCoy. If Price can earn the backup role, it would allow Ruiz to focus solely on his work at guard, potentially helping him to ascend to a level worthy of an extension.