NFC South: Brian de la Puente

Saints offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

 
With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New Orleans Saints' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
Gregory Payan/AP PhotoThe New Orleans Saints are counting on first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks to help keep the passing game rolling in 2014.
Best move: It's a tie for the Saints' big, bold moves in both free agency (signing safety Jairus Byrd) and the draft (trading up for receiver Brandin Cooks). The Saints had a Super Bowl-caliber team already. But they went all in to add a dynamic playmaker on each side of the ball. Byrd should help in the one area the defense was lacking last year -- forcing turnovers. And Cooks gives the offense another young, fast weapon after New Orleans parted ways with veterans Darren Sproles and Lance Moore this offseason.

Riskiest move: The Saints decided to let starting center Brian de la Puente leave in free agency without putting up a fight -- even though they don't have a proven backup in place. They're high on the potential of second-year pro Tim Lelito, but he's raw, and his only NFL experience came at guard last year. There's also a strong chance they'll re-sign former starter Jonathan Goodwin. But it's still a new question mark on an offensive line where they'll also be counting on second-year left tackle Terron Armstead.

Most surprising move: Trading Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles was more unexpected than the Saints' other decisions to part ways with several aging veterans this offseason. It made some sense because the Saints are loaded with talent at running back and Sproles had started to slow down a bit in recent years. But Sproles was still a huge impact weapon as both a runner and a receiver -- the kind of player defenses had to devise a game plan around. Now he's playing for another high-octane offense in the NFC.

Super secondary: Over the past two years, New Orleans has undergone a radical makeover in the secondary, which now looks like the NFL's most formidable unit east of Seattle. Last year, free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro were two of the biggest reasons for the Saints' remarkable turnaround under new coordinator Rob Ryan. Then they added Byrd and future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey in free agency this offseason, followed by the addition of a big Richard Sherman clone in the second round of the draft in Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
The New Orleans Saints officially need a new starting center now that Brian de la Puente has agreed to a deal with the Chicago Bears.

de la Puente
Obviously the Saints were prepared for this possibility -- and they seemingly chose to go in another direction. Terms of de la Puente’s one-year deal have not been announced yet, but it doesn’t appear that it would have cost too much for New Orleans to retain the 28-year-old free agent.

The Saints could go in a number of directions to fill the void. They’re very high on the potential of second-year pro Tim Lelito. But the undrafted free agent out of Grand Valley State is still raw. And so far, Lelito’s only NFL experience has come at the guard position in two spot starts last year.

The Saints could also draft a center in the early to middle rounds to add another candidate into the mix.

Or, if New Orleans wants to bring in a veteran for more security or competition, free agent Jonathan Goodwin is an obvious candidate. Goodwin, 35, was the Saints’ starter from 2008-2010, including a Pro Bowl season in 2009 en route to the Super Bowl. He spent the past three years as the San Francisco 49ers’ starter, though San Francisco has apparently decided to move on with a younger replacement.

Goodwin is no longer in his prime, but he has obviously proven to be a good fit in the Saints’ offense and locker room in the past, so he could be a great short-term solution.

Replacing de la Puente is a bit risky. He was a solid starter for most of the past three years. He was a huge part of their 2011 offensive explosion when he first came out of nowhere to beat out veteran Olin Kreutz for the job. And though he struggled early last season, he finished strong, helping the Saints show off a more prolific rushing attack in the playoffs.

Now the Saints need to find a new signal-caller in the middle of their line, while also continuing to develop second-year left tackle Terron Armstead.

However, the Saints should be able to absorb the loss of de la Puente since they have two Pro Bowl veteran guards in Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans. They also re-signed starting right tackle Zach Strief, keeping a good amount of stability on the line.

And it’s possible that Lelito or a draft pick could wind up developing into a long-term upgrade. Both coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have spoken highly of Lelito this offseason.

“Tim Lelito would be a guy that’s gonna be in the mix, someone that will be competing for that opportunity,” Payton said two weeks ago. “We’ll see who he’s gonna be competing against. But he’s someone that we feel has a chance to be that player.”
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.

That list of other veteran possibilities includes former Saints Pro Bowl center Jonathan Goodwin, who remains unsigned after three years with the San Francisco 49ers.

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.”
The New Orleans Saints still have not officially released running back Darren Sproles. Apparently they're still waiting to see if they can trade him before releasing him. Technically, the Saints don't have to make a move before the start of the new league year Tuesday afternoon since they're already under the salary cap. So I'm not sure what their unofficial deadline is for making a final decision.

The Saints are an estimated $2.6 million under the salary cap, according to ESPN's latest figures. Releasing or trading Sproles would put them more than $6 million under the cap.

No tenders for Collins, Morgan: The Saints won’t make qualifying tenders to restricted free agent fullback Jed Collins and receiver Joe Morgan, according to The Times-Picayune, which cited a source. But the Saints are still interested in re-signing both players at more affordable rates.

I’m surprised on Collins, since I think the Saints value him highly as a blocking back and occasional receiver in their offense. But the fullback position is a part-time role in the Saints’ offense, so they don’t want to invest too much in that area. And perhaps they think they can retain Collins at something like $1 million per year. (The lowest RFA tender would have been around $1.4 million).

The Saints also like Morgan’s potential after he showed so much promise as a deep threat in 2012. But they probably want to minimize any investment on him after he missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

Here was my recent breakdown of the Saints’ restricted free agents.

Interest in Strief, de la Puente: The Saints have not given up on the idea of re-signing free agent offensive linemen Zach Strief and Brian de la Puente. But they will hit the open market today, and there has been some interest in both of them.

Strief's agent Ralph Cindrich said there have been discussions with teams, but nothing finalized yet. Both ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton and the Miami Herald have speculated the Miami Dolphins might have interest in Strief. The Advocate's Ramon Antonio Vargas said the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have shown interest in de la Puente.
Two of the New Orleans Saints' starting offensive linemen will become unrestricted free agents on Tuesday -- right tackle Zach Strief and center Brian De la Puente. It's still possible the Saints could re-sign one or both of them. But they're content to see how the market shapes up before making any decisions.

If Strief and De la Puente leave, the Saints have young backups who could compete for their roles with third-year right tackle Bryce Harris and second-year guard/center Tim Lelito. They could also add potential starters at either spot in the draft. But they would probably want to add some veteran options in free agency as insurance.

The most obvious candidate for that type of role would be former Saints center Jonathan Goodwin, who is now a free agent again after three years as a starter for the San Francisco 49ers. Goodwin, 35, would be a natural stopgap while the Saints develop a young future replacement.

There aren't many top-notch centers available in their primes right now. Most analysts rank either De la Puente or the Green Bay Packers' Evan Dietrich-Smith as the top available options. Maybe Dietrich-Smith is slightly better, but the Saints would probably prefer to keep the guy they know at that price range.

Among the cheaper options at center would be the Atlanta Falcons' Joe Hawley, who was decent when he stepped into a starting role last year.

There are many more options available at right tackle, where the Saints could attempt to upgrade or at least get younger if they want to move on from Strief. The Cincinnati Bengals' Anthony Collins (28) and the New York Jets' Austin Howard (27 later this month) both had their best seasons to date in 2014 after beginning their careers as backups. Seattle Seahawks starter Breno Giacomini is another strong option in that same range.

The Baltimore Ravens' Michael Oher, 28, is a big name and a big, powerful run-blocker. But he has been inconsistent as a pass-protector throughout his career.

Older options who might be considered on short-term deals include the Arizona Cardinals' Eric Winston and the Tennessee Titans' David Stewart.

ESPN NFL Insiders Matt Williamson and Adam Caplan both said they didn't see many options the Saints should aggressively pursue -- though they did both mention Giacomini.

"With the offensive line, I keep coming back to their guys already," Williamson said of Strief and de la Puente. "Anthony Collins, to me, is about the same player as Strief but can also play left tackle. Giacomini is a mauler, you can run behind him on early downs. Austin Howard came out of nowhere and has exceeded expectations. His arrow is up, but he probably won't ever be 'great.' "
The top two free agents (Jimmy Graham and Greg Hardy) in the NFC South have been hit with the franchise tag. But plenty of division talent is on the market -- and that doesn't even include Darren Sproles, who will be either traded or released by the Saints. The four writers who cover the NFC South (Pat Yasinskas in Tampa Bay, Mike Triplett in New Orleans, David Newton in Carolina and Vaughn McClure in Atlanta) got together and picked the top 15 free agents in the division.

1. Jimmy Graham, Saints TE: Whether he's a tight end or receiver, he has been one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL, leading the league with 36 TD catches over the past three years.

2. Greg Hardy, Panthers DE: The Panthers had no choice but to place the franchise tag on Hardy. He played both defensive end spots, tackle and dropped into coverage. He led the team in sacks and quarterback hurries.

3. Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons DT: Aging veteran Babineaux still has a knack for getting in the backfield, although he would admit his sack numbers need to be better.

[+] EnlargeZach Strief
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsZach Strief, a seventh-round pick in 2006, has spent his entire eight-year career in New Orleans.
4. Mike Mitchell, Panthers S: He brought an attitude to the league's second-ranked defense with his aggressiveness.

5. Zach Strief, Saints OT: Strief is a solid veteran starter coming off his best season to date. He's not a dominator, but versatile and experienced enough to start for just about any NFL team.

6. Brian de la Puente, Saints C: He has been another solid starter over the past three years and finished strong in 2013 after a slow start.

7. Lance Moore, Saints WR: Moore's role diminished in the Saints' offense last year, but the sure-handed slot receiver is one year removed from a 1,000-yard season and can still be an asset at age 30.

8. Malcolm Jenkins, Saints S: He is a full-time starter who shows flashes of big-play potential every year, but the former first-round pick has never consistently met lofty expectations.

9. Captain Munnerlyn, Panthers CB: He may be undersized at 5-foot-9, but he proved he could be an every-down corner for the first time in his career.

10. Ted Ginn Jr., Panthers WR: Not only did he give quarterback Cam Newton the deep threat that he needed, he led the team in kickoff and punt returns.

11. Jabari Greer, Saints CB: Greer was one of the most underrated corners in the NFL over the past five years, but now he’s 32 and recovering from a major knee injury.

12. Peria Jerry, Falcons DT: The former first-round pick hasn't lived up to expectations in part due to injury, but he has shown a few flashes.

13. Erik Lorig, Buccaneers FB: Lorig is a versatile fullback who can make an impact as a lead blocker in the running game and also has some ability as a receiver out of the backfield.

14. Bruce Campbell, Panthers OT: With the retirement of left tackle Jordan Gross there's at least an opportunity for Campbell to be in the mix for a starting position.

15. Adam Hayward, Buccaneers LB: Hayward is one of the league’s better players on special teams. He also has value as a backup because he can play inside and outside linebacker.

Free-agency primer: Saints

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

.Key free agents: TE Jimmy Graham (franchised), RT Zach Strief, C Brian de la Puente, S Malcolm Jenkins, OLB Parys Haralson, WR Robert Meachem

Where they stand: The New Orleans Saints have a limited amount of cap space. But they should be able to make room to re-sign one or two of their own starters (in addition to Graham) and add one or two newcomers. The secondary should be a top priority after they released veterans Jabari Greer and Roman Harper last month. The Saints should be in the market for a cornerback who can come in right away and start -- and maybe a safety, too, if they don’t re-sign Jenkins. The offensive line will become a priority if they don’t re-sign Strief or de la Puente -- although they could address that in the draft. They also need to get younger at receiver and linebacker, although those spots also could be addressed in the draft.

What to expect: First and foremost, I ultimately expect the Saints to keep Graham on a long-term deal, although it could be a drawn-out negotiation. Beyond that, I expect a very similar approach to last year, when the Saints lost one key free agent (left tackle Jermon Bushrod), signed one high-priced free agent (cornerback Keenan Lewis) and added some nice depth at value prices (linebacker Victor Butler and tight end Benjamin Watson). My best guess is they keep one of their two starting linemen and add a starting-caliber cornerback (maybe in the range of the San Francisco 49ers' Tarell Brown or the Carolina Panthers' Captain Munnerlyn).
The New Orleans Saints have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11, including four full-time starters. Here’s a breakdown on center Brian de la Puente:

De la Puente
Position: Starting center
Age: 28
Height: 6-3
Weight: 306

Scouting report: De la Puente could be in high demand this offseason as a proven starter who has played at a high level for the last three years. Like the rest of the Saints’ offensive line, he struggled at times during the first half of the 2013 season in both his run blocking and pass protection. But he finished very well during the second half of the year and in the playoffs -- returning to the consistent level we saw in 2011-12.

De la Puente isn’t a mauler up front, but he’s got a good combination of power and athleticism -- which has served him well in the Saints’ versatile offense that relies so much on pass protection and screen passes. And his experience as a signal-caller for such a sophisticated passing offense will only enhance his market value.

De la Puente certainly fit right in on a Saints offensive line filled with diamonds in the rough. He joined the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Cal in 2008, but he bounced around with San Francisco, Kansas City, Carolina and Seattle before landing on the Saints’ practice squad in 2010. He then earned the starting job over veteran Olin Kreutz early in the 2011 season.

Projection: This should sound like a broken record by now with the Saints’ free agents -- I think they’d love to have de la Puente back, but only if the price is right. And that might not work out for them.

I’m tempted to predict that de la Puente could earn a deal similar to the three-year, $10.9 million contract the San Francisco 49ers gave Jonathan Goodwin when they stole him away from New Orleans three years ago. But it’s possible a team will pay even more for such a proven commodity since quality centers are hard to find on the free-agent market. Most analysts rank de la Puente No. 2 in this year’s class behind Cleveland’s standout Alex Mack.

If the Saints do lose de la Puente, they could audition another undrafted free agent find in the role -- Tim Lelito, who showed promise as a backup guard last year. Or they might look to develop a future starter with an early draft pick. Or they could sign a more affordable veteran free agent in the short term -- maybe even Goodwin, who is now back on the market.

Saints plan to stay on the gas pedal

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
6:40
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- This one has "trap game" written all over it, right?

Not if you ask the New Orleans Saints. Not at this stage of the season.

The Saints (10-3) will play on the road next Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Rams (5-8) -- the first "normal" week they've had in what feels like forever. They played a Thursday night game at Atlanta. Then they got embarrassed in a high-stakes "Monday Night Football" game at Seattle. Then they rallied with an emotional 31-13 win against the Carolina Panthers at home on Sunday night.

So it's natural to wonder if there's any looming threat of an emotional letdown in a lower-profile Week 15 game -- especially on the road. But the Saints insisted Sunday night and Monday that they worked to hard to gain their one-game lead over the Panthers (9-4) in the NFC South. So they aren't eager to surrender that lead one week later.

"I really think that as you get later in the season, each game becomes significantly more important," Saints center Brian de la Puente said Monday. "At this time of the year we know that we control our own destiny and to 'finish' has been a motto for us. We are in the fourth quarter of the season, and we've done a good job in the fourth quarters of the games and closing out games. So I think that we want to close out this regular season and have a good postseason."

"The more we win, the bigger these games are gonna get," safety Roman Harper added. "And that's a good thing. We've gotta get prepared for playoff football."

The Saints also know full well that St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome can suck the life right out of them if they're not careful. As quarterback Drew Brees pointed out on Sunday night, the Rams "beat the brakes off us" when the Saints went there in 2011 (a year that New Orleans finished 13-3). And the Saints barely won at St. Louis against a then-winless Rams team during the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl season.

It's also clear the Saints will be eager to prove they can give an impressive performance on the road. The Saints' home-road split has been a hotter topic than ever this year since they've been so much more dominant at home (7-0) than on the road (3-3, including two narrow victories over losing teams).

Winning inside a dome at St. Louis won't quiet all of the Saints' doubters. But the Saints will be eager to make a statement, regardless.

Coach Sean Payton was terse Monday when asked if the Saints will try to work on anything in particular this week, like communication in a road atmosphere.

"Nothing in particular," Payton said.

De la Puente admitted that playing inside the Superdome is a performance enhancer for the Saints. But he said that doesn't mean they can't have success on the road – where their 24-14 record since 2009 is still the best in the NFL during that span.

"I think that we like to be able to take our show on the road. But definitely playing in the Dome is an advantage," de la Puente said. "And we know that, and teams know that coming in here. It is a difficult place to play. There are unique things that present themselves when you are on the road, and that is part of it, and you just have to go out there and put your best foot forward."
Pro Football Focus broke down its picks for the weakest link in the starting lineup Insider of the NFL’s top contenders. For the Saints, they went with inside linebacker Curtis Lofton, harping on the fact that they have him credited for 14 missed tackles (tied for the league lead at his position).

My first instinct was to disagree with the choice. Although I don’t think Lofton is having a standout season, I think he's been solid. He leads the Saints with 67 tackles. He's a captain and signal-caller who has played almost every snap for an immensely successful defense. And he certainly hasn’t stood out for costing the Saints any games.

Obviously the run defense struggled last week in a 26-20 loss to the New York Jets. But while reviewing the tape of that game, I actually noted that Lofton might have had one of his best performances of the season. I don’t blame Lofton for any of Chris Ivory’s three breakaway runs. Although it looked bad when Ivory broke through Lofton’s attempted arm tackle on his 52-yard run in the second quarter, Lofton was being blocked on that play by pulling guard Brian Winters and got about as close as he could to stopping Ivory.

The problem with sticking up for Lofton, however, is trying to come up with an alternative. No other defensive starter is struggling this season.

I’d probably point to the Saints’ interior offensive linemen. Center Brian de la Puente and guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans have been too inconsistent in both their run blocking and pass protection. None of them have been "weaknesses"; although quarterback Drew Brees has taken more hits than usual, he's still been comfortable enough in the pocket to put up more monster numbers. But those big men up front certainly aren’t playing up to their usual lofty standard.

The Football Outsiders produced a similar article, identifying weak areas Insider for top contenders. They went with the Saints’ rushing offense, and I strongly agree with that.

Worth a click:
  • ESPN.com’s Jets reporter Rich Cimini offered some great detail on how the Jets stymied Brees in his weekly film study.
  • Here’s the always-insightful film study from The Times-Picayune’s Larry Holder.
  • The Saints’ team website put together a cool package of video highlights and radio calls from the top 10 plays of the first half of this season.
  • The Times-Picayune’s Peter Finney wrote that the Saints are so hard to figure out this season, they could win or lose every game remaining on the schedule.
  • The Advocate’s Ramon Antonio Vargas shined a spotlight on receiver Robert Meachem’s big performance, which may have gone unnoticed in the loss at New York.
  • Last but not least, Saints owner Tom Benson’s wife, Gayle, was also clutch during the Jets game – finding a reporter’s missing engagement ring in the bathroom.

Links: Tiki claims Sapp 'is an idiot'

June, 25, 2013
6/25/13
10:30
AM ET
Atlanta Falcons

Defensive end John Abraham is still a free agent, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jeff Schultz says the Falcons could use the veteran's help.

Running back Steven Jackson "has always been among the most impressive physical specimens in the league, and now he’ll have a chance to show off the well-rounded game that comes with it," writes Robert Mays of Grantland's Triangle blog.

Here are five under-the-radar battles that will determine if the Falcons will have some quality depth in 2013, courtesy of the AJC's D. Orlando Ledbetter.

Falcons rookies are getting pumped up for training camp -- and it's only June. Linebacker Brian Banks tells the team's website, "To finally put on pads, to finally get physical out here -- Steven Jackson is the same size as me. It makes no sense how big he is, but I can’t wait to go against him and everybody else."

Carolina Panthers

Who is the most overrated player in Panthers' franchise history? If you immediately blurt out Sean Gilbert, NFL.com has a different suggestion.

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula tells the National Football Post that the Panthers are streamlining the game plan for QB Cam Newton. Shula: "We're looking at different ways for him to think faster and play faster on the field.”

Contrary to one online report, running back Jonathan Stewart does not have cancer.

Linebacker Chase Blackburn doesn't hesitate when asked why he wants to be a Carolina Panther: "I've won two championships; I want to win more."

New Orleans Saints

Marques Colston is now one of 14 players on the Saints' 90-man roster over 30, and one of the 14 left of the dwindling numbers from the 2009 Super Bowl team, but Katherine Terrell of NOLA.com reports the wide receiver is showing no signs of slowing down.

Athlon Sports analyzes the Saints' 2013 schedule, including a "3-1 mark to start the year is a very real possibility."

The Times-Picayune continues its series on the Saints' top 25 players, including No. 19 center Brian de la Puente.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Can the Bucs afford to have the NFL's highest paid punter in Michael Koenen?

More from the former NFL players gossip mill, Tiki Barber responds to former Buccaneer Warren Sapp's comments on Michael Strahan. "Warren’s an idiot. He just wants to say things to be idiotic. I played with Stray for my whole career. He is the greatest of the great. He is a great teammate, he kept things light, but on game day he was as serious as a heart attack and it showed in his play."

NFC South afternoon update

April, 9, 2013
4/09/13
4:07
PM ET
Time for a quick look at the day's top headlines from around the NFC South:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

In the latest twist of the saga of a possible trade with the New York Jets for cornerback Darrelle Revis, Mark Cook reports that the Bucs might not be willing to give up a first-round pick in 2013 or 2014. That’s contrary to a lot of previous reports that have said the Bucs would be willing to give up a first-round choice in one of those years. I suspect this is just more posturing as both sides try to angle for the best possible deal.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Check out this Sports Science video featuring Kenny Vaccaro, who I see as a potential draft pick for the Panthers. If Vaccaro doesn’t make it as an NFL safety, he could have a future as an Olympic hurdler.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Center Brian de la Puente has signed his tender as a restricted free agent.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Recently-signed linebacker Brian Banks went on Atlanta’s KTLA and talked about the ordeal he went through, which included serving more than five years in prison for a charge he later was exonerated of.
Here is how I see the New Orleans Saints' starting lineup as they head toward the NFL draft:

OFFENSE

WR Marques Colston

LT Charles Brown

LG Jahri Evans

C Brian De La Puente

RG Ben Grubbs

RT Zach Strief

TE Jimmy Graham

WR Lance Moore

QB Drew Brees

RB Pierre Thomas and/or Darren Sproles

FB Jed Collins

DEFENSE

DE Will Smith

DT Brodrick Bunkley

DE Cameron Jordan

OLB Victor Butler

ILB Curtis Lofton

ILB Jonathan Vilma

OLB Junior Galette or Martez Wilson

CB Keenan Lewis

CB Jabari Greer

FS Malcolm Jenkins

SS Roman Harper

Notes: Brown is not a sure thing at all at left tackle. The Saints may draft a left tackle or sign one later in free agency. The team has high hopes for Wilson and Galette, but still could look to add a pass-rushing linebacker. The starting cornerbacks are probably set, but the Saints still could look to upgrade over Patrick Robinson as the No. 3 cornerback.
New Orleans center Brian De La Puente, who quietly has become a very solid anchor of the offensive line, was the biggest winner on the Saints when it came to the performance-based pool for the 2012 season.

The performance pool is designed to reward players with low base salaries who get significant playing time. De La Puente earned an extra $289,000, according to league sources.

The other New Orleans players to earn at least $100,000 from the pool were safety Isa Abdul-Quddus ($232,000), cornerback Corey White ($196,000), tight end Jimmy Graham ($146,000), safety Rafael Bush ($135,000), fullback Jed Collins ($134,000), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks ($129,000), defensive tackle Tom Johnson ($114,000), defensive end Junior Galette ($114,000), defensive end Martez Wilson ($113,000) and receiver Joe Morgan ($111,000).
We heard Friday night the New Orleans Saints had placed the second-round tender on restricted free agent Chris Ivory.

But the running back isn’t the only one getting that tender. Center Brian de la Puente and defensive end Junior Galette also have been designated for the $2.023 million tender. Other teams can make offers, but the Saints would have the right of first refusal and would receive a second-round pick if either player were to leave.

The tender is likely to prevent other teams from making offers. De la Puente has emerged as a solid starter and Galette should have a chance to be an edge rusher as the Saints switch to a 3-4 defense.

The tenders leave the Saints about $6 million over the cap. That means more moves have to come before Tuesday, and veterans Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma and Roman Harper are candidates for restructure or release.

SPONSORED HEADLINES