Saints pay inside out on O-line

There’s a general rule of thumb in the NFL that you pay offensive tackles big money and don’t spend nearly as much on interior linemen.

Then, there are the New Orleans Saints, who turn that rule inside out. After Monday’s release of veteran tackle Jon Stinchcomb, the disparity became even more pronounced.

The Saints likely will start Jermon Bushrod at left tackle, generally the highest-paid position on an offensive line. They’re letting Zach Strief and Charles Brown compete for Stinchcomb’s old starting job.

Bushrod is scheduled to make $1 million in base salary this season and could earn up to $150,000 more in incentives. That’s got to rank him among the lowest-paid starting left tackles in the NFL. There are backups who make more than that.

Right tackles don’t make as much as left tackles, but the theme is similar here. The Saints don’t have a lot of money invested in Strief or Brown. Strief is scheduled to make $1 million in base salary this year. Brown has a $450,000 base salary and a $310,000 roster bonus. Whichever one wins the job, is going to be among the lowest paid starting right tackles in the league.

On the inside of the line, things are much different. Guard Jahri Evans has a $3 million base salary. Fellow guard Carl Nicks signed a restricted free-agent tender for $2.611 million, but it’s likely the Saints will try to get him signed to a massive long-term extension. There’s no way they want perhaps the best guard in the league getting anywhere close to hitting the free-agent market next year.

The Saints let veteran center Jonathan Goodwin leave in free agency. They could have gone with second-year pro Matt Tennant as his replacement. But they decided not to be cheap. They went out and got veteran Olin Kreutz, who is scheduled to make $2 million in base salary and can make another $225,000 in incentives.

So why do the Saints pay their interior linemen so much more than their tackles? It’s because the interior guys are far more important in their system. I’ve got a theory about why that is. Look at quarterback Drew Brees. The Saints list him at 6-foot.

I’ve stood next to Brees when he’s been wearing cleats and I’m pretty sure he’s more like 5-11 or 5-10. When you’ve got a guy that size in the pocket, you need dominant interior linemen who can keep defenders from getting any penetration. If they do, they’re going to knock down a bunch of Brees’ passes.

That’s rarely happened in recent years. That’s because the Saints have paid a premium to make sure they’re strong in the middle of the line.