Ranking Saints needs: No. 4 Center/guard

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2014 offseason -- ranked from 1-12 in order of the team's need for upgrades or replacements.

Current depth chart:

G Jahri Evans. Age 30, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $7.5 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $11 million.

G Ben Grubbs. Age 29, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $6.1 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $9.1 million.

C Brian de la Puente. Age 28, unrestricted free agent.

G/C Tim Lelito. Age 24, scheduled to become unrestricted free agent in 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $495,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $496,666.


I don't expect the Saints to make dramatic changes here in 2014. All three starters played very well during the second half of the 2013 season after struggling early in the year, and they were at their best in the playoffs. I think guards Evans and Grubbs both wound up earning their trips to the Pro Bowl -- and I expect both of them to stay in New Orleans, despite the fact that they're set to earn some monster salaries.

However, the Saints need to start re-stocking the shelves. There's a good chance that they'll lose de la Puente in free agency, unless they can get him back at a very affordable rate. And both Evans and Grubbs will be 30 by the start of next season.

The Saints like what they have in young backup Tim Lelito, who earned a roster spot last year as an undrafted free agent from Grand Valley State. Lelito made two spot starts at left guard -- struggling mightily the first time in Week 3 against Arizona, but holding up very well the second time in Week 12 at Atlanta. However, Lelito will have to prove that he can make the transition to being a full-time center to earn a starting job.

Even if Lelito proves ready to step into the job, the Saints will need to find a reliable young backup who can develop into a future starter. So they could certainly look at these spots early in the draft, if not free agency.

As for de la Puente, I'm not sure what his market value will be as a free agent. He struggled a bit early last season, but he finished strong. And he was excellent in both 2011 and 2012. The 6-3, 306-pounder was part of one of the greatest offenses in NFL history in 2011 when he was first thrust into the starting lineup. And he has been versatile as a pass protector, run blocker and screen-pass blocker in the Saints' multiple offense. ... It may depend on how many teams have a strong need at the center position.