NFC South: Marshal Yanda

The New Orleans Saints weren’t able to keep the best guard on the free-agent market -- Carl Nicks. So, they went out and got the second-best guard on the market in former Baltimore standout Ben Grubbs.

The Saints agreed to terms with Grubbs on Thursday morning on a five-year deal worth $36 million. Grubbs was viewed by fans in Baltimore as not living up to the expectations that came when he was a 2007 first-round pick for much of his time with the Ravens. But he suddenly became much more appreciated last season when he missed six games with a toe injury and the offensive line struggled without him. The Ravens wanted to keep him, but didn’t have more money to invest in the offensive line after giving Marshal Yanda a big contract last year.

Grubbs will cost the Saints about $2.5 million less per season than Nicks got from the Buccaneers. Grubbs might not be the superstar that Nicks was, but he’s a powerful blocker, and should help keep the interior of the offensive line strong.

Grubbs will be paired with Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans. Brian de la Puente, who played surprisingly well after taking over as the starting center, will return in the middle.

It’s impossible to say the Saints are better off without Nicks. But they aren’t in bad shape at guard, now that they’ve added Grubbs.

Looking at NFC South's top guards

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
12:52
PM ET
Jonathan Bales has his list of the 20 best guards in the NFL in 2011. It’s based on mathematics that involve run blocking and pass pressures allowed.

As you might expect, two NFC South guards rank high on the list. But there’s a third division player on the list who might surprise you.

First, let’s start with what’s not a surprise. New Orleans’ Carl Nicks is No. 2 on the list. He’s behind only Baltimore’s Marshal Yanda. Bales cites Nicks’ pressure rate of 0.68 percent as a big reason he’s ranked near the top. If I were Nicks and his agent, I’d print out these ratings and show them to the Saints as they get ready for contract negotiations. Nicks is on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent.

It’s also not surprising that Nicks’ teammate Jahri Evans is on the list. What is mildly surprising is that Evans is No. 11. In most conversations on the topic, Nicks and Evans are in the top five. In fact, there’s often debate about which New Orleans guard is better. But Bales says Evans’ ranking was low because he allowed 26 pressures on quarterback Drew Brees and that dropped his value even though he’s one of the league’s top run-blockers.

Now, here’s the big surprise. Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Zuttah is on the list at No. 13. There weren’t many bright spots for the Bucs in 2011, but Zuttah’s play was one. Like Nicks, Zuttah also is a potential free agent. The Bucs are well aware that Zuttah played well last season and they want to keep him. They’re also aware that he’s versatile and also can play center. His value to the Bucs is only helped by the fact that he played in college at Rutgers under new Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.

There also are two NFC South guards with reasonably big names that didn’t make the list and Bales addresses both of them. Tampa Bay’s Davin Joseph went to the Pro Bowl and allowed only two sacks while doing a good job as a run-blocker, but Bales points to his 21 pressures allowed as the reason he’s not on the list.

Atlanta’s Justin Blalock also was left off the list. Bales points to the fact that the Falcons averaged just 3.5 yards per carry when running behind Blalock as the reason he didn’t make the top 20.
We already have talked quite a bit about players from the NFC South who are expected to become unrestricted free agents. We’re going on the assumption that players not under contract who have at least four accrued seasons can become unrestricted free agents.

With that in mind, and with some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look at some of the more prominent potential free agents from the rest of the league.

QUARTERBACKS: Marc Bulger, Kerry Collins, Rex Grossman, Matt Hasselbeck, Patrick Ramsey, Alex Smith, Billy Volek, Kellen Clemens, Brodie Croyle, Trent Edwards, Bruce Gradkowski, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith and Tyler Thigpen.

RUNNING BACKS: Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown, Kevin Faulk, Mewelde Moore, Sammy Morris, Clinton Portis, Dominic Rhodes, Tony Richardson, Kevin Smith, Darren Sproles, Fred Taylor, Brian Westbrook, Ricky Williams, Joseph Addai, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jerome Harrison, Brandon Jackson, Laurence Maroney and LeRon McClain.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Mark Clayton, Braylon Edwards, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Randy Moss, Santana Moss, Terrell Owens, Donte’ Stallworth, Steve Breaston, Malcom Floyd, Santonio Holmes, James Jones, Sidney Rice, Mike Sims-Walker, Brad Smith and Steve Smith (of the New York Giants, not the Steve Smith of Carolina).

TIGHT ENDS: Desmond Clark, Donald Lee, Randy McMichael, Bo Scaife, Kevin Boss, Owen Daniels, Daniel Fells, Zach Miller, Ben Patrick and Matt Spaeth.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: David Baas, Jammal Brown, Robert Gallery, Adam Goldberg, Kyle Kosier, Olin Kreutz, Matt Light, Sean Locklear, Casey Rabach, Chris Spencer, Langston Walker, Casey Wiegmann, Floyd Womack, Damien Woody, Chris Chester, Jeromey Clary, Daryn Colledge, Willie Colon, Doug Free, Jared Gaither, Charlie Johnson, Deuce Lutui, Samson Satele, Lyle Sendlein and Marshal Yanda.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Aubrayo Franklin, Tommie Harris, Chris Hoke, Chris Hovan, Kris Jenkins, Bryan Robinson, Gerard Warren, Jamal Williams, Pat Williams, Alan Branch, Barry Cofield, John McCargo and Brandon Mebane.

DEFENSIVE ENDS: Jason Babin, Dave Ball, Raheem Brock, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Cullen Jenkins, Travis LaBoy, Trevor Pryce, Marcus Spears, Ray Edwards and Mathias Kiwanuka.

LINEBACKERS: Akin Ayodele, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Burnett, Dhani Jones, Kirk Morrison, Julian Peterson, Matt Roth, Takeo Spikes, Jason Taylor, Mike Vrabel, Stewart Bradley, Bobby Carpenter, Manny Lawson, Paul Posluszny, Ernie Sims and Stephen Tulloch.

CORNERBACKS: Nnamdi Asomugha, Phillip Buchanon, Chris Carr, Drayton Florence, Ellis Hobbs, Carlos Rogers, Lito Sheppard, Ike Taylor, Fabian Washington, Drew Coleman, Antonio Cromartie, Chris Houston, Johnathan Joseph, Dimitri Patterson, Josh Wilson and Eric Wright.

SAFETIES: Aaron Francisco, Ken Hamlin, Michael Lewis, Brandon McGowan, Quintin Mikell, Lawyer Milloy, Brodney Pool, Gerald Sensabaugh, Roy Williams, Gibril Wilson, Atari Bigby, Melvin Bullitt, Abram Elam, Dashon Goldson, Michael Huff, Dawan Landry, Danieal Manning, Bernard Pollard, Eric Weddle and Donte Whitner.
Tags:

NFC South, Ricky Williams, Gibril Wilson, Gerald Sensabaugh, T.J.Houshmandzadeh, Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Terrell Owens, Steve Smith, Lawyer Milloy, Ronnie Brown, Phillip Buchanon, Jammal Brown, Billy Volek, Jason Taylor, unrestricted free agents, Mark Clayton, Chris Hovan, Rex Grossman, Tyler Thigpen, Randy Moss, Kris Jenkins, ESPN Stats & Information, Chris Houston, Alex Smith, Brandon McGowan, Danieal Manning, Bruce Gradkowski, Michael Lewis, Fred Taylor, Steve Breaston, Roy Williams, Nnamdi Asomugha, Trevor Pryce, Santana Moss, Tavaris Jackson, Pat Williams, Kellen Clemens, Julian Peterson, Donte Stallworth, Kerry Collins, Brodie Croyle, Cedric Benson, Clinton Portis, Zach Miller, Brian Westbrook, Damien Woody, Troy Smith, Marc Bulger, Kevin Faulk, Ray Edwards, Sidney Rice, Antonio Cromartie, Jamal Williams, Mathias Kiwanuka, Patrick Ramsey, Aaron Francisco, Joseph Addai, Darren Sproles, Matt Leinart, Tony Richardson, Ike Taylor, Josh Wilson, Matt Hasselbeck, Atari Bigby, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Marcus Spears, Jonathan Joseph, Paul Posluszny, Matt Light, Trent Edwards, Mewelde Moore, Sammy Morris, Dominic Rhodes, Kevin Smith, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jerom Harrison, Brandon Jackson, Laurence Maroney, LeRon McClain, Malcolm Floyd, James Jones, Mike Sims-Walker, Brad Smith, Desmond Clark, Donald Lee, Randy McMichael, Kevin Boss, Owen Daniels, Daniel Fells, Ben Patrick, Matt Spaeth, David Baas, Robert Gallery, Adam Goldberg, Kyle Kosier, Olin Kreutz, Sean Locklear, Casey Rabach, Chris Spencer, Langston Walker, Casey Wiegmann, Floyd Womack, Chris Chester, Jeromey Clary, Daryn Colledge, Willie Colon, Jared Gaither, Charlie Johnson, Deuce Lutui, Samson Satele, Lyle Sendlein, Marshal Yanda, Aubrayo Franklin, Tommis Harris, Chris Hoke, Bryan Robinson, Gerard Warren, Alan Branch, Barry Cofield, John McCargo, Brandon Mebane, Raheem Brock, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Travis LaBoy, Akin Ayodele, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Burnett, Dhani Jones, Kirk Morrison, Takeo Spikes, Mike Vrabel, Stewart Bradley, Bobby Carpenter, Manny Lawson, Ernie Sims, Stephen Tulloch, Chris Carr, Drayton Florence, Ellis Hobbs, Carlos Rogers, Lito Sheppard, Fabian Washington, Drew Coleman, Demitri Patterson, Eric Wright, Ken Hamlin, Quintin Mikell, Brodney Pool, Melvin Bullitt, Abram Elam, Dashon Goldson, Michael Huff, Dawan Landry, Bernard Pollard, Eric Weedle, Donte Whitner

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