There's been much discussion this offseason on how the Saints O-line appeared to regress in 2010 from their solid 2009 performance. Some think it may be time for some younger faces to get the starting nod. With center Jonathan Goodwin and left tackle Jermon Bushrod scheduled to become unrestricted free agents once this annoying lockout is finally resolved, there may well be a shake-up among the men tasked to protect Drew Brees and open up running lanes for the Saints' backfield (including Mark Ingram. YIPPEE!).
Assuming Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton make retaining Goodwin and Bushrod top free agent priorities (I see no reason they wouldn't), there may be little room for new starters on the O-line. If they are resigned and given starter's money, I doubt they'll be assigned to playing back-up.
We can all agree that guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans make up the heart and soul of the line, right? Evans seemed to regress a little last year after becoming the highest paid player in the league at his position, but he and Nicks are still widely heralded as the best guard duo in the league.
That leaves only the right tackle spot and Jon Stinchcomb. He seems to have fallen out of favor among many in Who Dat Nation and some are expecting him to get challenged in training camp (assuming there is one) by either Zach Strief (also a free agent) or second-year player Charles Brown. It's true that his performance last season left a little to be desired, but I wonder if nagging injuries were affecting his ability. He had sports hernia surgery last summer and is now coming off of surgery to reattach his quadricep muscle to his knee. He'll be 32 in August, so one has to wonder how much he has left.
Jeff Duncan doesn't mention Stinch in his mailbag answer today, but he does say that he expects center Matt Tennant and Charles Brown will need more time to develop before they're able to challenge for a starting position.
In the case of Bushrod and Goodwin, the Saints will likely be even more frugle since they invested recent draft picks in players at both of Bushrod and Goodwin's positions. That said, I'd be very surprised if either second-year player became regular in 2011. Bushrod and Goodwin are proven veterans with years of starting experience. They are key cogs in one of the Saints' steadiest position groups. I, too, do not believe the line played nearly as well in 2010 as it did in 2009, but the group's overall talent, experience and reliability can not be taken for granted. Brown is ideally suited ot play left tackle but Bushrod is established at the position and will be the starter if and when he's re-signed. As a young starting left tackle, Bushrod will likely command a lucrative deal from whoever signs him. From all indications, there's mutual interest to work out a deal in New Orleans. The Saints can talk all they want about open competition and the best player starts, etc., but they aren't going to pay Bushrod "starter money" to sit on the bench. Ditto Goodwin. All of this said, I know the Saints are high on both Tennant and Brown. My guess, though, is that both will likely follow similar career paths as Stinchcomb and Bushrod, meaning they'll need a couple of years of development before making a push to start.
How do you think the O-line will shake out this season?*
*Season may not actually happen.