The NFL media is atwitter over the latest news and rumors surrounding Peyton Manning, his former center Jeff Saturday, and the Green Bay Packers. In short, Manning has finally chosen the Broncos as his new team, which spells the end of “Tebowmania” in Denver. (But that’s beside the point.) This, of course, sets up the possibility of a “domino effect,” wherein Colts teammates follow Manning to the mountains.
Two players who could have interest in doing this are tight end Dallas Clark and center Jeff Saturday. However, rumbling quietly into this big mill of speculation is that, in addition to the Broncos, Saturday is also scheduled to meet with the Packers. They are, as we all know, trying to fill the void left by Scott Wells, who just signed with the St. Louis Rams.
Keen fans have been quick to question the interest that Ted Thompson apparently has in Saturday. The veteran center will be turning 37 in June and has played his entire 13-year career in front of Peyton Manning – minus last season.
Doesn’t Thompson shun the aging veteran? Isn’t he a bigger proponent of developing his own talent?
Generally speaking, yes.
Nevertheless, there are some valid reasons for the Packers to have interest in Saturday. First and foremost, though, we have to understand that he would be a stopgap lineman – a temporary fix until a long-term replacement could be acquired and/or groomed. Offensive lineman rarely make big impacts their rookie season, especially centers. Even a guy like Peter Konz from Wisconsin would need a healthy amount of time to get used to the offensive system and calls. So drafting a center is more of a long-term solution than a short-term one.
What a lot of people wonder, though, is why Thompson would let a veteran like Scott Wells walk away if he was even going to consider an older player like Saturday. Well, to be frank, it’s not like Wells was given a lot of incentive to return. The Packers stiffed him once when they (stupidly) replaced him with Jason Spitz, and then they obviously couldn’t agree to an extension or new contract before the start of free agency this year.
Besides, the bigger picture here is that we’re looking at a multi-year contract versus a one- or two-year signing. Wells’ agreement with the Rams is worth $24 million over four years and stands as one of the top five contracts for centers. Saturday would probably see a shorter contract with less guaranteed money, though it depends on how the market treats him. The Broncos could offer him a more lucrative deal.
Still, one of the bigger reasons Thompson will drop his players is because of injury, and Saturday has missed only 6 games in his last 192 as a starter. Age will increase the risk factor, but that risk seems pretty low to begin with.
Then there’s the fact that Jeff Saturday is probably the most highly decorated center on the market. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl five times (2005-2010), is a four-time All-Pro selection, was named NFL Alumni Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2007, and wears a Super Bowl championship ring. This past year, Pro Football Focus ranked him as the No. 5 center overall, allowing two sacks, no quarterback hits, and nine pressures, all while being flagged just three times.
Oh yeah, and he also played with one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
The consideration of Jeff Saturday as a stopgap replacement for the Green Bay Packers makes more sense than not. Just because it doesn’t look like a “Ted Thompson move” on the surface doesn’t mean that it’s out of the realm of possibilities. By signing Saturday to a short-term deal (which is all he’ll probably get anyway), the Packers take on a low-risk investment until they can groom a replacement center.
Now, Saturday could easily end up signing with the Broncos and follow his long-time quarterback into Denver. In fact, I’d say there’s a better chance of that happening than him signing with the Packers. Heck, the Packers may even decide they don’t want him after his visit.
But I think Saturday is a good example of the reality of the situation. The Packers don’t really have a strong center to plug into the line for 2012, and it’s going to take some time to teach any rookie they draft this year, no matter how much talent he possesses. What they need most is a short-term answer, someone with experience who can pick up the offense quickly and doesn’t come with a lot of risk.
And Jeff Saturday sure seems to fit those credentials pretty well.——————Follow @ChadToporski