Ranking Saints needs: No. 5 Off. tackle

January, 31, 2014
1/31/14
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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:

Zach Strief. Age 30, unrestricted free agent.

Terron Armstead. Age 22, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $525,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $679,359.

Charles Brown. Age 26, unrestricted free agent.

Bryce Harris. Age 25, exclusive rights free agent.

Analysis:

Strief
The Saints’ line will take a significant hit if Strief leaves in free agency, and I think there’s a strong chance it could happen. Strief was excellent this past season -- the Saints’ most consistent lineman from start to finish. He could start at right tackle for just about any team in the league. So it’s possible another team might offer more money than the Saints can afford to match.

If that does happen, however, I like Harris’ potential as a possible replacement. He’s gotten some valuable experience over the past two years as a fill-in starter and as the sixth lineman in heavy sets. Practice squad lineman Marcel Jones could also compete for that role if he blooms in his third NFL offseason. Or the Saints could add another young lineman in the draft.

And I do have some confidence in the Saints’ new left tackle, Armstead, who was impressive in his four-game audition at the end of his rookie season. He’ll continue to be a work-in-progress, since he’s a young player from a small school (Arkansas-Pine Bluff). But I think he showed enough in the playoffs to ensure that his name will be written in ink on the depth chart heading into the 2014 offseason. He’s an athletic marvel whose potential is very high if he can deliver on it.

The bigger concern is that the Saints’ entire line has been in flux for the past few years now. Since 2011, they have replaced their line coach, their left tackle twice, their center twice, and their right tackle and left guard once each. Now they might need to replace their right tackle and center again, depending on whether they re-sign Strief and center Brian De La Puente.

I like all five of the starters the Saints had in place at the end of the 2013 season, and they were really starting to gel during the second half of the season -- aside from some hiccups at left tackle. But we saw more inconsistency than ever before at the beginning of the season as it took them a little while to get on the same page.

As for Brown, I still think he has the talent to resurrect his career after being benched late in the 2013 season. He was solid in the starting left tackle job for much of last season. However, I doubt he’ll be back in New Orleans.

Mike Triplett

ESPN New Orleans Saints reporter

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