- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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The New Orleans Saints could still “very well” re-sign center Brian de la Puente or another veteran in free agency, coach Sean Payton said Wednesday at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla.
Payton spoke highly of second-year lineman Tim Lelito as a possible contender for the role, as well. And he said it appears to be a good draft class for interior linemen. But he said the Saints have not finalized their plans for the position yet.
“It’s still unfolding, so it’d be premature to say, ‘Hey, here’s our plan today,’” Payton said. “We feel we’ve got some good young linemen in the building, and I’m sure that as we get back to New Orleans and we still continue to look at our boards, I wouldn’t be surprised if there possibly is a player signed.
“But Tim Lelito would be a guy that’s gonna be in the mix, someone that will be competing for that opportunity. Well see who he’s gonna be competing against. But he’s someone that we feel has a chance to be that player. And yet we think there could be the potential to have someone (else). And it could very well be a guy like de la Puente or another guy who’s out there.”
De la Puente visited with the Washington Redskins last week, and other teams have shown interest. The Saints remain in play as he mulls his options, according to league sources.
Or the Saints could wind up drafting a potential center. Payton briefly mentioned the interior line positions while discussing what holes the Saints still have to fill and what their priorities might be in the NFL draft.
“You always put a value on corners and pass rushers, defensively,” Payton said. “I think offensively we’ve been able to hit on some young linemen. We had six (undrafted) free agents from last year’s class make the team. So I think that you look at your linemen and you look at the board, and are we going to be able to find an inside player potentially. You don’t stop looking for a tight end. … It’s a deep draft we think at receiver, so there are a lot of teams that are going to be able to draft maybe a good player there.”
One position that won’t be a priority for the Saints in the draft is left tackle after Terron Armstead finished strong in that role during his rookie season in 2013. Payton made it clear that the Saints plan to stick with the third-round pick from Arkansas-Pine Bluff going forward.
“I think that Charles (Brown) came in and did a good job for us (last season), but it was nice to have had a chance to evaluate Terron and then see the production we got from him,” Payton said. “That clears things up a little bit as you approach the draft, as opposed to getting through the season possibly not playing and maybe not having the exposure, too. I think he got better each week.”