It seemed to me to be a no-brainer. The Packers have no one on their roster with more than minimal NFL experience as a center. Before yesterday, there were 19 players on the NFL Free Agent Tracker listed at the center position. Surely Ted would be looking to bring in an inexpensive player with real experience at center in case the JC Tretter conversion doesn’t work out.
Well, Ted has done nothing yet and now there are 18 centers on the market, with arguably the best of the bunch now off the board.
The NFC North Division rival Bears signed former Saints starting center Brian De La Puente on Sunday. De La Puente was a guy I had on my radar as the best target for Ted Thompson to bring in as cheap veteran insurance. Only I had no idea how cheap.
The Bears signed De La Puente for a veteran minimum contract ($735K for a player with 4 years experience) with a $65,000 signing bonus and only $100,00 in guaranteed money. That’s quite a bargain for a player ranked as the fifth best center in the NFL over the last three seasons, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Still young at only 28yrs old, De La Puente turned down the Lions and the Saints to join the Bears and his old offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. While that makes sense, it is odd that he joins a team where he is expected to be a backup, not a starter. Certainly a team like the Packers could have offered him a better opportunity to win a starting job. But apparently, that offer never came.
With how inexpensively De La Puente came, one can’t say the Packers (Ted) were being cheap, a common refrain heard from many critics. So that leaves several other possibilities:
1) The Packers are dead-on convinced Tretter is their center of the present and the future.
2) The Packers are planning to draft a starting center.
2) Ted Thompson just doesn’t value the center position that highly.
Let’s take a look at the first option. I recently wrote about the state of the center position for WTMJonline. Here’s an excerpt from that article:
Between Barclay and Tretter, I think it’s obvious who the Packers would like to win the job. Tretter has the smarts (29 on his Wonderlic score) and mobility (a former tight end). The Packers would love to have those things at their disposal leading their offensive line. Barclay, on the other hand, would help the team much more on the bench. He would be invaluable to the Packers as a game day active backup at 4-5 positions on the offensive line… The one problem with Tretter, of course, is that he’s never played a snap in the NFL yet. The Packers really liked what they saw of Tretter in practice over the last seven weeks of the season, but until they see him in game action in the preseason, they have to hedge their bets. Beyond the guys mentioned above, I expect there to be some other candidates on the Packers roster before too long. There currently are 19 players with experience at center on the free agent market, most of whom can be signed as inexpensive insurance.
As I mention in that article, I believe the packers WANT Tretter to be the answer, but the fact they are open to Lang and even Sitton as other possible options, doesn’t sound like they’re SURE about it.
As for possibility #2, Ted Thompson has never drafted a true center. And unless you have a very high pick or are very willing to reach, it’s difficult to have drafting a starter as a specific position on your draft day to-do list. There are too many unknowns to count on that as your primary strategy.
That brings us to possibility #3. This article was inspired by a twitter conversation between Ted Sundquist (a former Broncos NFL GM) and Ryan Riddle (Former NFL player and current writer for Bleacher Report).
In Riddle’s article, which is a really good read on offensive line topics in general, Sundquist professes his love for the center position:
“Center is the most important offensive line position.” says Sundquist. “The best units are generally anchored by a son-of-a-gun at center. Without a good center, you’re not going to have a good offensive line.”
One man’s opinion, of course, and one Riddle put to the test in his article. I won’t go into the specifics of the data Riddle used (you’ll have to read the article), but the results were that in 2012, four of the top eight centers were members of top ten offensive lines. In 2013, seven of the top eight were members of a top ten offensive line.
While I think the sample set is not large enough to give definitive results, it’s still interesting to see numbers corroborating Sundquist’s belief that the center makes the line. Sundquist is such a believer, he also said he would absolutely draft a center in the first round.
That brings us to Ted Thompson, who has never drafted a pure center in his time as Packers GM. There was Junius Coston and Jason Spitz, two guys who had played SOME center in college, but that’s as close as you can come.
As we stand now in 2014, the Packers will have their fourth different starting center over the last four years. During that time, Thompson has let two starting centers leave via free agency, Scott Wells and Evan Dietrich-Smith. Despite Aaron Rodgers’ protestations, it doesn’t seem like Thompson thinks continuity at center is all that important.
With the Packers current situation of not having an experienced center on their roster, and the best option to resolve that problem now gone (De La Puente), what will Thompson do? There are still some decent options sitting out there for him.
Kyle Cook, starter for the Bengals since 2009.
Jonathan Goodwin, starter since 2008 for New Orleans and San Francisco.
Samson Satele, starter since 2007 for Miami, Oakland and Indianapolis.
David Baas, starter for the Giants since 2005
Surely he’ll sign of these guys to a one year insurance contract as the Bears have just done with De La Puente, right? …right?
If not, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say Thompson just doesn’t care that much about the center position.
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.