Max Unger

Saints C Max Unger To Retire

The Saints’ starting center for the past four years, Max Unger will call it quits. The 10-year veteran will announce his retirement, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. Unger now resides on the reserve/retired list, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter).

Unger made the Pro Bowl this past season and had one year remaining on his contract. The soon-to-be 33-year-old blocker had only missed one game during his Saints tenure.

Traded from Seattle to New Orleans in the Jimmy Graham-headlined deal four years ago, Unger became one of the Saints’ constants. His 2018 Pro Bowl was the third of his career, with the other two such honors having come when he was a Seahawk.

A 2009 second-round pick, Unger started all 130 games in which he played. He was a key part of the Saints’ revitalized running game, helping Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram form one of the league’s best backfield tandems in years. The Saints still have the other four members of their past two starting offensive lines under contract — Terron Armstead, Larry Warford, Andrus Peat and Ryan Ramczyk — but now have a need at center. This comes after Peat’s fifth-year option salary ($9.6MM) became fully guaranteed earlier this week.

The Saints appear to have known about this for a bit, considering the team hosted free agent interior lineman Nick Easton on a visit. Easton, who has played center and guard, has yet to decide on his next home. However, the Vikings submitted an offer late this week.

Unger’s retirement stands to free up $6.95MM in cap space. In the final season of a four-year, $24.9MM contract, Unger was to count $8.7MM against New Orleans’ cap.

Cameron Tom and Will Clapp, a 2017 UDFA and a 2018 seventh-round pick, respectively, reside as the other centers on the Saints’ roster. They have a combined two games’ worth of starting experience. Though, turning to one of these two (or a to-be-determined rookie) would help the two-time reigning NFC South champions devote some additional resources elsewhere, with their line still housing two veteran salaries and now a fifth-year option price tag.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Winston, Wilson, Lane, Saints O-Line

We now know that the NFL is investigating an incident regarding Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and an uber driver from last year. The female uber driver claimed that the former number one overall pick groped her during a ride, but Winston has denied those allegations. but adding onto this story, Steve Wyche of NFL.com reports in a Twitter video, that the 23 year-old signal caller will not go on the exempt list because no charges have filed as of yet.

However, it might not be long until the quarterback faces suspension from the league, according to Roy Cummings of Florida Football Insiders. Cummings says that while Winston may avoid suspension for the rest of the year because the investigation could take some time, but notes that sexual assault allegations have resulted in missed time in the past. The writer points to when Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for four games back when he faced similar charges in 2010.

The story is still unfolding, so while Winston’s playing outlook is in flux given his current injury, this situation adds an unexpected twist to his 2017 season and perhaps even in 2018.

  • Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson shed some light on the jaw injury that he suffered vs. Arizona last Thursday in a session with the media today. The signal caller said that while he wasn’t concussed in the game, his jaw injury forced him to undergo some drastic treatment in the days after, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times.  Condotta relays that Wilson was forced to wear a mouthguard and could not eat solid foods for the three days following the midweek contest. “Basically, the game was on Thursday, so Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I was pretty sore,” he said. “Tons of ice and treatment and all of that, so I feel good now. … the first two-and-a-half, three days, I couldn’t really eat anything. I was just doing smoothies and all that kind of stuff.” While the injury does sound painful, it looks like Wilson is going to tough it out for Monday night’s game vs. the Falcons.
  • While Wilson will remain in the starting lineup, another team leader in Richard Sherman will miss the rest of the season. With that news finally settling in for Seahawks fans, Condotta also passes along that cornerback Jeremy Lane will replace him in the defensive backfield (Twitter link). Lane was notably rescinded in the Duane Brown trade because he failed the Texans physical, and now finds himself as a key cog to Seattle staying afloat in a competitive NFC playoff picture.
  • The Saints have been one of the hottest teams in football winning their last seven games after dropping their first two at the start of the regular season. A big reason for this has been the emergence of arguably the league’s best 1-2 backfield punch that includes veteran Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. However, Joel Erickson of the New Orleans Advocate notes that the team has been helped by some notable early returns on their offensive line. Erickson states that three of the team’s starting lineman have returned sooner than expected, including guard Larry Warford, center Max Unger and left tackle Terron Armstead. Warford returned this past Sunday from an abdominal strain, missing only two games, Unger progressed ahead of schedule from offseason Lisfranc surgery and Armstead’s return was premature after suffering a torn labrum. All three lineman have helped the Saints offense change it’s identity to a more ground and pound style, which has been on full display in the past seven weeks.

Saints’ Max Unger Passes Physical

When Saints center Max Unger suffered a foot injury in May, the expectation was that he’d miss the opening of the 2017 season. It doesn’t appear that will happen, though, as Unger passed a physical on Thursday and is now eligible to come off the active/physically unable to perform list, Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com tweets.

Max Unger (vertical)

Going without Unger to begin the year would’ve left the Saints sans two of their best offensive linemen at the outset of the campaign. As it stands, the club will have to make do without left tackle Terron Armstead, who suffered a torn labrum in June, until sometime in the fall. Armstead also sat out nine games last year on account of knee and quad issues.

Injuries have been problematic for Unger, too, as the 31-year-old has missed 30 of 128 regular-season games since the Seahawks chose him in the second round of the 2009 draft. Seattle dealt the two-time Pro Bowler and a fourth-round pick to New Orleans for tight end Jimmy Graham and a first-rounder in 2015, and the lineman has been a dependable pivot for the Saints during his two years with the club. Unger has appeared in 31 of a possible 32 contests with the Saints, all starts, and is coming off a year in which he ranked 14th among Pro Football Focus’ 72 qualified centers in overall performance.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Saints’ Max Unger To Be Ready For Week 1?

It now sounds like Max Unger might not miss the start of the season after all. Saints head coach Sean Payton said yesterday that he expects Unger to return to the field in early August with the hope of suiting up for the ever important third preseason game (via Herbie Teope of the Times-Picayune). This jives with a report from Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk earlier this week, who wrote that the Saints expected their starting center to be back in action in time for the preseason.Max Unger (vertical)

[RELATED: 10 Centers The Saints Could Pursue]

Last Monday, a report indicated that Unger could miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a lingering foot injury. While the PUP list was mentioned as a possibility, it now sounds like he should be ready to go in Week 1. If that’s the case, then the Saints might not have to look into trading for a quality center after all.

It is fair to wonder why the Saints waited until May to have Unger undergo surgery, but Payton says the medical staff hoped rest after the regular season would work. However, the team noticed at the start of the offseason workout program in April that the problem needed further evaluation.

In 2016, Unger graded out as the No. 11 center in the NFL, per the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus. Unger, who came to New Orleans in the Jimmy Graham deal with the Seahawks, has two Pro Bowl nods and a First-Team All-Pro selection on his resume. Teope says Senio Kelemete will likely take the bulk of Unger’s reps at center while Unger is sidelined.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

Saints C Max Unger To Miss Start Of Season

Saints star center Max Unger has suffered a foot injury and is expected to miss the start of the 2017 season, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Right now, it looks like Unger will be sidelined for about five months. Max Unger (vertical)

The Saints acquired Unger in the 2015 Jimmy Graham trade with the Seahawks. Since then, he has started 31 of 32 possible regular season games, but he’s now slated to be on the PUP list in September. The Saints could turn to backup Jack Allen as the new starter, but it seems more likely that they will look out-of-house for their new No. 1 center.

Former Jets star Nick Mangold remains on the open market and would make a good amount of sense for the Saints, even if he is no longer the Pro Bowl caliber player that he once was. Eagles center Jason Kelce has also been mentioned in trade rumors and one has to wonder if New Orleans could come calling. Kelce is slated to carry a $6.2MM cap hit in 2017, but any team acquiring him would only be looking at a $5MM commitment for the year.

Last year, Unger graded out as the No. 11 ranked center in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. His 83.8 score was roughly in line with his work from the previous two seasons and stands as his second-best PFF showing ever. His best season, per the advanced stats, came in 2012 when he posted an 85.6 overall score. In that season, Unger earned his first of two Pro Bowl nods and his lone First-Team All-Pro selection.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Saints, Max Unger Agree To Extension

MONDAY, 3:50pm: Nick Underhill of the New Orleans Advocate passes along details of Unger’s contract. In total, the contract holds an average annual value of $7.4MM while also including a $7MM signing bonus and $14.3MM in guaranteed money.

Unger’s base salary will be at $850K in 2016, and it increases to $1.7MM (2017, fully guaranteed), $4.5MM (2018, $1MM guaranteed), and $5.1MM (2019, no guarantee). The cap hits, meanwhile, increase from $4.35MM in 2016 to $7.4MM (2017), $8MM (2018), and $8.7MM (2019)

FRIDAY, 9:15am: The Saints and center Max Unger have agreed to a three-year extension, as Herbie Teope of The Times-Picayune writes. The new three-year deal will give Unger an annual salary of $7MM+. Max Unger (vertical)

Unger, 30, started all 16 games for New Orleans last season after the Jimmy Graham trade brought him in from Seattle. Prior to his new deal, Unger was slated to play out the 2016 season for a $4.45MM base before entering the free agent market.

Unger was obviously not the focal point of the Seahawks-Saints trade last year, but he did offer an impressive pedigree of his own. Over the course of his career, the Oregon product has earned two Pro Bowl nods (2012, 2013) and one First-Team All-Pro selection (2012) with 83 games (all starts) on his resume. Meanwhile, Graham went from one of the league’s best tight ends to something of an afterthought in Seattle. He is now trying to get back on track after undergoing serious knee surgery.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Graham, Alonso, Norman

The biggest news out of the NFC today is Kam Chancellor‘s decision to end his holdout and report to the Seahawks, but we’ve got several more items to round up from around the conference, including a couple more updates out of Seattle. Let’s dive in…

  • Tight end Jimmy Graham isn’t happy with the role he has had in Seattle’s offense during the season’s first two weeks, and has questioned why the Seahawks would trade for him if they intended to use him like this, says Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report (video link). Freeman expects the team to tweak its offensive approach to get Graham more involved, but if that doesn’t happen, the Pro Bowl tight end could express his unhappiness publicly.
  • According to Danny O’Neil of 710 ESPN Seattle, the Seahawks would have released veteran center Max Unger even if he hadn’t been involved in the trade that sent Graham from New Orleans to Seattle.
  • Evaluations on whether or not Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso will be able to play through his knee injury are ongoing, according to Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Head coach Chip Kelly said today that Alonso has a sprained knee, which doesn’t contradict a previous report indicating that it’s a partial tear of the linebacker’s ACL.
  • Cornerback Josh Norman has been one of the most impressive players on the Panthers in the early part of the 2015 season, and the team may regret not locking him up in the offseason when he was extension-eligible, writes David Newton of ESPN.com. Norman’s price tag is on the rise as he nears the end of his contract, which expires in 2016.
  • The lucrative new extension Julio Jones signed with the Falcons in the preseason is paying early dividends for the Falcons, as Orlando D. Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution details.

Contracts Restructured For Levitre, Unger

A pair of NFC South offensive linemen have restructured their contracts with their new teams, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com, who reports that Falcons guard Andy Levitre and Saints center Max Unger have both reworked their deals.

Levitre, acquired last week by the Falcons, had originally been due $27.3MM over the next four seasons, but Atlanta reduced that figure to $23.25MM and sliced his 2015 salary from $6.5MM to $1.5MM (Twitter links via Yates). In return, the former Titans guard received a $5.5MM signing bonus, which will drop his cap hit for this season from $6.5MM to $2.875MM. As Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com details (via Twitter), Levitre’s base salaries for 2016 and 2017 have been reduced as well.

Meanwhile, the division-rival Saints completed a simple restructure on their new center’s contract, converting $3MM of Unger’s base salary into a signing bonus (Twitter link via Yates). Since the ex-Seahawk has just two years left on his deal, that bonus will prorate equally in 2015 and 2016, giving New Orleans an extra $1.5MM in cap room this year.

Neither restructure is expected to open the door for the Saints or Falcons to add a notable player — they’re simply designed to create some additional flexibility if and when the teams need to put players on injured reserve and bring in injury replacements throughout the season.

NFC Notes: Beauharnais, Dockett, Lions, Unger

With training camps going on throughout the NFL landscape, players are beginning to stand out and injuries are starting to shift depth charts already. Here are a few veterans who could be looking at new roles or new contracts as the season draws near:

  • The 49ers worked out linebacker Steve Beauharnais yesterday, per John Middlekauf of 95.7 The Game (via Twitter). Beauharnais was on Washington’s active roster last season after being selected by the Patriots in the seventh round of the 2013 draft.
  • Coming off a torn ACL, Darnell Dockett wasn’t seen much during the beginning of the 49ers training camp. Coach Jim Tomsula said that the reason he wasn’t in there was because he might not factor into the base defense early on with all the double teams he’ll be facing, writes Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com“We’re not going to have him in there doing that,” Tomsula said. “I don’t want him in there. . . He’ll be doing more of the nickel stuff, the sub stuff. You’ll see that stuff.” That could mean more work for Ian Williams, Quinton Dial, and Glenn Dorsey.
  • In his latest mailbag, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com says the Lions could extend standout linebacker DeAndre Levy soon, and he adds that Ryan Broyles has a “decent chance” of making the team’s roster provided he can stay healthy.
  • James Ihedigbo, who skipped the Lions‘ early spring workouts due to frustration over his current deal, declined to talk about his contract on Sunday, simply saying that it is not time to negotiate once the season starts (Twitter link via Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press).
  • Jimmy Graham was the biggest name traded this offseason, but it is easy to forget that Max Unger was moved in that deal as well. He is currently getting accustomed to being the starting center for the Saints, and readying himself for the season in New Orleans, writes Evan Woodbery of NOLA.com“Regardless of the reason I’m here, I’m being asked to do a job that I’ve been doing for a while,” said Unger. “I just get on the field and do it, keeping the things that I’ve been doing to get this point in my career.”

Rory Parks contributed to this post.