Jonathan Goodwin happy to be 'home'

METAIRIE, La. -- Jonathan Goodwin said leaving the New Orleans Saints in 2011 was one of the toughest decisions he ever made.

Coming back this week was one of the easiest.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to retire a Saint, so I guess this makes it a lot easier,” said Goodwin, who re-signed with the Saints on Tuesday after previously playing in New Orleans from 2006-10. “I look at New Orleans as my second home. This is the place where my career turned around and I had the most success.”

Goodwin, 35, spent the past three years with the San Francisco 49ers after leaving for a more lucrative offer in 2011. He doesn’t regret his time spent in San Francisco -- he started all three years for a team that reached a Super Bowl and two NFC Championship Games.

But he admitted that it was a grueling choice to leave at the time.

“That day I changed my mind like twice. I told the 49ers I was coming, then I told 'em I wasn't coming, then I told 'em I was coming for real,” Goodwin said. “So it was a rough decision for me and my family. But I felt like I had some things I couldn't pass up.”

This year, however, San Francisco decided to move on to younger alternatives. And the Saints were the team with the opening after they decided not to re-sign starter Brian De La Puente in free agency.

The Saints had been in talks with Goodwin since April, but coach Sean Payton confirmed that they waited until after June 1 to finish the deal since it could potentially affect their ability to earn a compensatory draft pick next year.

Goodwin will now compete with second-year pro Tim Lelito for the starting job.

Lelito was still working with the first string during Thursday's organized team activities (OTAs) session that was open to the media. But Payton insisted that no one has an advantage.

“Both those guys are going to have a good shot of playing for us,” Payton said. “And listen, that’s the way it is, it’s normal. You’re never just given a position. Tim’s done a lot of good things, we’re excited about his progress. And a guy like Jonathan, who obviously has played a long time. I think it’ll make both of 'em better.”

Goodwin said he won’t have any problem competing with Lelito and serving as a mentor to him at the same time. He said that’s what his relationship was like with young center Daniel Kilgore in San Francisco.

“You know, in this league, when a younger guy can play, that’s who teams tend to go with. But guys did it for me, so I have no problem doing it with Tim,” Goodwin said. “We’ve already had conversations, and I think we’ve already started building a relationship.

“Naturally, I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t want to play, so I still want to play. We’re both going to fight each other tooth and nail. So either way, I think this team will be straight at the center position.”

Goodwin said he took a couple of days after last season to think about whether he wanted to keep playing at his age. And he said he felt like he could still play and the game was still fun. And if the right opportunity presented itself, he would pursue it -- which obviously turned out to be the case.

Although Goodwin clearly isn’t in his prime anymore, observers felt like he continued to be a serviceable starter for the 49ers last year. And Goodwin stills feels he is playing at a high enough level.

“I want to still play well. I don’t want to just be out here just to say I’m an NFL player,” Goodwin said. “I’ve got a lot of pride, and you know, I saw my grade sheets that Coach [Mike] Solari gave me every week last year. So I know I played well. Definitely not perfect. But I know I still can hold down the fort as a center in this league.”

Veteran teammate Zach Strief isn’t playing favorites between Goodwin and Lelito. But he said he’s definitely glad to have Goodwin in the mix.

Strief said after De La Puente signed with the Chicago Bears, he was texting Goodwin about 10 seconds later.

“You lose a friend (De La Puente) and you want a friend to come here,” Strief said. “I think on top of that, I think he’s a good football player. He’s proven that. He’s been successful in San Francisco. It’s good to have as many good players in the room as you can.”