Making their first foray into the free agency market, the New Orleans Saints on Saturday reached a contract accord with unrestricted offensive lineman Jermane Mayberry, a nine-year veteran who had played his entire career with the Philadelphia Eagles, ESPN.com has confirmed.
Contract details were not immediately available.
The versatile Mayberry has started at every offensive line position except center. Among his 96 career starts are 64 at right guard, 17 at left tackle, 12 at left guard and four at right tackle. It is expected that the Saints will use Mayberry at right tackle, where their starter for the last two seasons, Victor Riley, is an unrestricted free agent.
New Orleans officials were also speaking with right tackle Fred Miller, recently released by the Tennessee Titans, so right tackle clearly was an offseason priority for the Saints. With the addition of Mayberry, the Saints probably will not pursue Miller now.
Mayberry, 31, was the Eagles' first-round choice in the 1996 draft and the former Texas A&M-Kingsville standout has been a fixture on the blocking unit since moving into the lineup full-time in his second season.
A powerful blocker, the 6-foot-4, 325-pounder appears to be a good fit for the aggressive style preferred by New Orleans coaches. He joins a unit with a nice mix of old and young veteran linemen led by standout center LeCharles Bentley and left tackle Wayne Gandy.
The only potential concern is that Mayberry has missed some time to injuries in each of the last two seasons. An elbow injury limited him to five appearances in 2003. Biceps and triceps injuries forced Mayberry to miss four games in 2004 but he played well in the team's three postseason contests.
Exercising great foresight, Eagles personnel officials actually began planning a year ago for Mayberry's eventual departure. The Eagles moved up in the first round of the 2004 draft to select Arkansas offensive lineman Shawn Andrews. Ironically, when the rookie sustained a season-ending knee injury in the first week of the campaign, Mayberry moved from left guard back to his old right guard spot to replace him.
Losing the much-respected Mayberry might actually be as big a setback for Philadelphia off the field as on it. He was a quiet team leader whose locker room presence certainly was unmistakable. On the field, the Eagles have several excellent young guards, with a depth chart that includes Andrews, Artis Hicks, Alonzo Ephraim and Steve Sciullo.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.