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Saints' burning questions: Who will be their center?

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have several major roster decisions to make before the start of the new league year and free-agent signing period on March 10. For starters, they must trim somewhere between $20 and $30 million in salary-cap space (most of which will be accomplished by converting roster bonuses into signing bonuses).

Here’s the latest in a series of 10 of the most burning questions the Saints have to answer:

The question: Who will be the Saints’ center?

Last year’s starter, Jonathan Goodwin, is 36 years old and an unrestricted free agent. The Saints could bring him back on another one-year deal. They could turn to third-year apprentice Tim Lelito. Or they could look for an upgrade in free agency or the draft.

Goodwin was decent last season and looked like he had discovered the fountain of youth in training camp while beating out Lelito for the job. But then he started battling a variety of minor injuries throughout the season, which led to some ups and downs as both a pass protector and run blocker.

The Saints seem to value Goodwin’s veteran experience since they continued to plug him in as the starter despite the injuries. But coach Sean Payton listed the interior offensive line as the Saints’ No. 2 "must" for this offseason, so change will likely come somewhere in the starting lineup.

The answer: Goodwin is the most likely starter to be replaced. But a lot will depend on what the Saints decide to do with veteran guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, both of whom could be in line for releases or pay cuts.

If the Saints keep both Evans and Grubbs, it’s hard to imagine them spending big on a center in free agency. However, if they release Evans or Grubbs, they could consider investing in a center and sliding Lelito into the starting lineup at guard instead.

One way or another, the Saints absolutely must start developing younger talent throughout the interior offensive line -- whether that’s through the draft or a younger free-agent investment. Because all three of their current starters will need to be replaced within the next year or two.

The top free agent centers include Oakland’s Stefen Wisniewski, Kansas City’s Rodney Hudson, and former Saints starter Brian de la Puente. De la Puente wouldn’t appear to be a top option, since the Saints let him get away for cheap last year without putting up a fight in free agency. Then again, perhaps they regretted that decision after their interior line play dropped off.