Evan Smith

10 Centers The Saints Could Pursue

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. "<strong
  • 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.

Extra Points: Ravens, Mangold, Bucs, Watson

The Ravens traded center Jeremy Zuttah earlier today, but they haven’t made contact with free agent pivot Nick Mangold as of yet, tweets Jeff Zriebec of the Baltimore Sun. Instead, Baltimore is likely to turn over center to internal option John Urschel, or look for another free agent on the open market. While contending clubs were expected to pursue Mangold, he hasn’t drawn any known interest so far this offseason. Teams are reportedly asking the 33-year-old if he’s willing to shift to guard.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Interior offensive lineman Evan Smith received a $1MM roster bonus on Wednesday, a clear indication that he’ll be a member of the Buccaneers‘ 2017 roster, as Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times details. Smith has only started seven games over the past two seasons, and will likely remain the Bucs’ top reserve at the pivot and both guard spots after center Joe Hawley re-signed earlier today. As Auman writes, Tampa Bay’s front five is currently in flux, and a number of line combinations could be in play next year. Smith, 30, will earn a base salary of $3.5MM in 2017 while carrying a cap charge of $4.5MM.
  • Although one report indicated Buccaneers offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus retired yesterday, the veteran lineman has not formally decided to hang up his cleats, as Auman tweets. However, Cherilus is not seeking a new contract and won’t participate in the free agent process. This could be a “soft retirement” for Cherlius, could simply be a matter of semantics. Cherilus, 32, has played nine NFL seasons.
  • Free agent linebacker Dekoda Watson is visiting a team tonight and has another meeting scheduled for Thursday, though it’s not clear at present exactly which clubs are involved, as Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post tweets. The 28-year-old Watson appeared in all 16 games for the Broncos in 2016, playing on 84% of the team’s special teams snaps. Denver is reportedly interested in retaining him.

Buccaneers OL Evan Smith To Miss Time

Buccaneers offensive lineman Evan Smith suffered a grade-2 MCL sprain, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). He is expected to miss about three weeks. Evan Smith (vertical)

The loss of Smith comes at a bad time for Tampa Bay with left guard Kevin Pamphile and center Joe Hawley also nursing injuries. Both players were sidelined for Week 10 and it’s not immediately clear whether they will be in action for Week 11 against the Chiefs.

Hawley, 28, has only been so-so according to the advanced metrics, but he is the anchor for Tampa Bay’s O-Line and his tough, gritty style is missed on the field. If he remains out while Smith nurses his sprain, the Bucs will likely have to turn to Ben Gottschalk to bridge the gap. It also stands to reason that the Buccaneers could add an offensive lineman if all three players are ruled out for this weekend.

Previously known as Evan Dietrich-Smith, Smith de-hyphenated his name prior to the 2015 season. He discussed the change with Joe Kania of Buccaneers.com.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Eagles, Bolden, Buccaneers, Raji

Some assorted notes from around the NFC…

  • After having worked under Andy Reid for several years, Doug Pederson is now in full control as the head coach of the Eagles. Reid had guided the Eagles to the playoffs during his second season as head coach in Philly, but Pederson believes he inherited a better team than his mentor. “This team today is better than that team,” Pederson told Jeff McLane of Philly.com. “I just think that we’re in a better position.”
  • Safety Omar Bolden was released by the Bears yesterday, but Troy Renck of Denver7 ABC tweets that the 27-year-old “will land on his feet.” Renck notes that the former Broncos draft pick could wind up in Denver, and he adds that his release from the Bears was due to the team’s “logjam” at defensive back.
  • If Buccaneers offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus proves to be nothing more than a backup to Demar Dotson, Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times could see the team letting go of him and his $4.5MM salary. Other veterans who could find themselves on the hot seat include offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, defensive end George Johnson, tight end Brandon Myers, and safety Major Wright.
  • The Packers had offered B.J. Raji a “lucrative” contract, indicating that they expected him to play a major role on their 2016 squad. However, as ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky writes, the defensive lineman’s one-year hiatus from the NFL suddenly changed the organization’s offseason plans.


NFC Notes: Hardy, Kalil, Bucs

The arbitrator assigned to Greg Hardy‘ suspension appeal backed the NFL in the Adrian Peterson case, Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports writes. That could be bad news for the Cowboys star as he looks to cut down his 10-game suspension. Hardy’s deal, signed in March, gives him a base value of $11.3MM for 2015, though much of it is tied into per-game roster bonuses. More out of the NFC..

  • Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees this offseason, two people with knowledge of the procedures told Tom Pelissero of USA Today Sports. Kalil had his 2016 option exercised on Monday despite a frustrating 2014 campaign.
  • The Vikings “tried hard” to land LSU offensive tackle La’el Collins, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets, but he rightly notes that most of the NFL did as well. Earlier today, Collins signed with the Cowboys. Collins wasn’t expected to make a decision on his NFL future for some time, but owner Jerry Jones clearly won him over.
  • Buccaneers center Evan Dietrich-Smith has legally changed his name to Evan Smith, which is what he went by until he went to college, Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com tweets.
  • The Buccaneers have fired pro scouting director Scott Cohen, according to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports (on Twitter).

Buccaneers Notes: McCoy, Smith, Barron

The Buccaneers signed defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a big money extension earlier this week, with initial numbers reported to be $98MM over seven years, with $51MM guaranteed. While more information trickled out about the details of the contract, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports has more information on the specifics, which he released in a series of tweets. He reports that $20.3MM of that total will be earned in 2014, and the rest of the money is paid out on a pay-as-you-go system. It only becomes guaranteed in the event of injury.

La Canfora gives out how much money will be owed going forward. “McCoy will make $11.5M in 2015 ($5m base/$6.5 roster bons). $12.5M in 2016 ($6M/$6.5M). $13.75M in 2017 (all base salaries), $12.75M 2018, $13M in 2019.” He also notes that McCoy will have base salaries of $10MM in 2020 and 2021, with an additional $2.5MM in roster bonuses.

Overall, after the contract guarantees kick in on the third day of the 2015 league year, the contract becomes a three year, $44.3MM deal at its minimum.

Here are some other notes from around the Buccaneers:

  • Head coach Lovie Smith does not believe the team is bereft of talent after deadline deals saw a few key players move to new teams, writes Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times“The move we made gave us the best chance to win right now. … Yeah, we picked up draft picks on both of those players — moved up on one and picked up (picks) on the other,” said Smith. “But no, it’s not about the future. Yeah, it’s always about the future, but it’s about our current roster. As I said, you don’t trade players unless you feel pretty good about the other players you have.” Smith also noted that moving on from former first-round pick Mark Barron will give Major Wright and Bradley McDougald a chance to shine. Smith said Wright has been playing as well as any safety on the roster, and praised McDougald’s future as a star on the defense. He also mentioned his desire not to have any player who was one-dimensional, saying he wanted his safeties to be able to play both the pass and the run.
  • Speaking of Barron, the Rams should be very happy with the player they acquired, writes Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He considers the trade the first move of the 2015 offseason, and believes that the Rams will correctly use him as an in-the-box safety to strengthen the run defense. He writes that in 2012 Barron was the ninth ranked safety against the run in the box by Pro Football Focus.
  • With the exit of Barron, the Buccaneers are left with only three first round picks on the roster, the others being McCoy, this year’s pick Mike Evans, and Adrian Clayborn (who is on the IR), according to Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com. (However, Doug Martin was also drafted in the first round, with the team trading back into the first round to grab him in 2012.) Guard Logan Mankins, defensive end Larry English, and cornerback Mike Jenkins are also first-rounders, although they were acquired via trade and free agency. Altogether, the first rounders have played 1,699 snaps, third worst in the NFL after the Jaguars and Raiders. Those three teams are a combined 2-20 this season.
  • The Buccaneers also made a big splash in free agency this offseason, but those investments have not paid dividends, writes Yasinskas. Anthony Collins, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Josh McCown, and Michael Johnson have all disappointed, while Alterraun Verner and Clinton McDonald have merely been solid.

Packers GM Talks Extension, Future, Offseason

The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn sat down with Packers general manager Ted Thompson on a variety of subjects, including Thompson’s new extension, his future with the franchise and the team’s offseason acquisitions. Here are some of the highlights:

On his contract negotiations with team President Mark Murphy:

“Informal. Yes, I had some representation. An attorney friend of mine. It wasn’t very difficult. It was done over the course of the last few weeks. I think Mark did it (alone).”

On whether he’ll follow the path of his mentor, Ron Wolf, who walked away from the game at age 62:

“Not specifically. I think everybody has their own threshold. Ron was very smart. What he’s been able to accomplish since his retirement in terms of traveling…he and his wife are in good health and have been able to do that…I think that’s marvelous. In my particular situation, I think if I can stay in good health and do this job, I think that’s a marvelous situation.”

On what keeps him motivated:

“The ability to stay up high. To continue the chase of scouting and working with good people. All those things are important to me. My family back home in Texas is important to me. I am cognizant that I’ve spent a large part of my life away from them. I’m going to make a concerted effort to try to be more in their lives. If it’s a weekend every six or eight weeks, I’m going to try to do stuff like that.”

On his role within the organization:

“The short answer is to be a leader. That encompasses a lot of different things. It’s making decisions, but it’s also the idea of being a good person and a servant to the people that work alongside me. The people that I work with have their own lives and their own families. It’s important to try to do this right.”

On Russ Ball (negotiating vice president) potentially being his successor:

“Russ Ball is outstanding. He’s one of those people I work so closely with and becomes part of your family. He’s a good man and certainly an asset to the Packers.”

On whether he deliberately matches contract lengths with head coach Mike McCarthy:

“It’s just been generally the stance of the organization to kind of tie the general manager and head coach in lock step. It makes a little bit of sense in terms of, if the contracts would expire or be lengthened out, they’d be (done) all at the same time.”

On team’s ability to consistently stay under the cap:

“Part of that is management and an understanding of what we will and won’t do on a contract. There’s a lot of angst when you get involved in negotiations. There’s a tendency by some teams to kind of maybe stretch a little bit beyond their reach. What we’ve always done, and what I think quite frankly is one of the secrets of this, is that we’ve always done it the same way. Meaning, we’ve looked at free agents and our own players the same way. We haven’t had four people sitting in my chair and three different head coaches. We’ve had the same people sitting in the chairs. I think when that happens, that changes your roster moves dramatically. It bodes well for me staying in place. I think it’s the continuity of having Mike and myself and our entire staff, coaching and personnel, they’re all the same.”

On taking the blame for last season’s back-up quarterback debacle:

“Well, you kind of push the envelope. You’re always trying to get better at that position, just like any other. It wasn’t like we didn’t bring different people in and take a look at them. It just didn’t work out. We feel pretty good about our (current) group.”

On allowing center Evan Dietrich-Smith to depart via free agency:

“It’s just the way it worked out, you know? He got a nice offer (from the Buccaneers) and we chose not to go there. I think (J.C. Tretter) has a chance to be a pretty good player. Working hard. Good kid. Smart.”

On whether the Julius Peppers acquisition will work out:

“I think so. I think that those that have doubted Mr. Peppers most of the time have been wrong. He is, as people have been able to see over the last few days, a gifted athlete despite being a little older than some. I look forward to watching him. He seems anxious to do it, too.”

NFC Notes: Austin, Wilson, Conte

Tavon Austin did not provide the degree of immediate impact the Rams were hoping for when they chose him eighth overall last year. In an AP story, Austin was bluntly honest about why he didn’t play as fast as he’s capable: he struggled with the complexities of his first NFL playbook. “I didn’t really know what was going on,” Austin said. “Everything looked like Spanish and sounded like Spanish to me.”

Here’s some NFC links:

FA Links: Sanders, Allen, Hester

Before he signed with the Broncos, there were rumblings that receiver Emmanuel Sanders might end up with the Chiefs. There was so much to those rumors that even the team thought they were going to land the free agent, but it all ended up being a clever strategy by the former Steelers’ agent, Steve Weinberg. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, many executives around the league aren’t happy with how the Sanders talks were handled, with one team official saying the Weinberg broke “every rule in negotiations”. In his press conference today, Sanders said there was “no handshake” and “no kind of agreement” with the Chiefs.

More from around the NFL…

  • Jared Allen met with the Seahawks today, tweets Rapoport. In a subsequent tweet, Rapoport mentions that Allen will likely visit another team this week and that retiring is still an option for the 31-year-old.
  • Adding to reports that the Dolphins have interest in Devin Hester, the wide receiver has said that he would “love” to play for the team, writes Chris Perkins of the Chicago Tribune.
  • The Buccaneers will now listen to offers for offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah after having signed Evan Dietrich-Smith, tweets Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. La Canfora adds (via Twitter) that the team is looking to revamp their offensive line but acknowledged that the team does value Zuttah’s versatility. La Confora suggests the Ravens, Colts and Giants as potential fits (from Twitter).

Bucs To Sign Evan Dietrich-Smith

3:23pm: The deal includes $7.25MM in guaranteed money, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.com, adding that several teams were in the mix right up until the end.

3:09pm: The Buccaneers continue to be busy during free agency’s first week, announcing (via Twitter) that they have agreed to terms on a deal with Evan Dietrich-Smith. The former Packers center will ink a four-year deal worth $14.25MM, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter).

With Alex Mack tied up by the Browns’ transition tag, Dietrich-Smith represented one of the top unrestricted centers on the free agent market this offseason. After starting nine games during his first three seasons in Green Bay, the Idaho State alum started all 16 games for the Packers in 2013, so he doesn’t have a ton of NFL experience. Still, he’s still in his prime at 27 years old, and played very well in his first full season, according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics (subscription required). PFF ranked him eighth out of 35 qualified centers, and Dietrich-Smith graded particularly well as a pass blocker.

For the Buccaneers, Dietrich-Smith represents the second major offensive line signing of free agency, as the team also locked up left tackle Anthony Collins. The two new Bucs will help protect new signal-caller Josh McCown in 2014, though it’s not clear if the club has penciled in Dietrich-Smith at center quite yet — Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times says the Bucs believe he could start at either guard or center (Twitter link).

As for the Packers, they’ll be heading into 2014 with a new starting center for the second consecutive season. It’s not clear yet whether they’ll pursue an outside target and turn to another in-house option, such as J.C. Tretter.