With the sudden news of center Max Unger retiring Saturday, the New Orleans Saints immediately had an unexpected hole in the middle of their offensive line. There were many thoughts about how New Orleans would look to fill the large void that Unger left after a spectacular four years in the big easy. So who was going to replace him? Will Clapp? Cameron Tom?
Would they check the trade market?
The Saints have been high on Cameron Tom since he’s been with the team. I assumed he was basically the starter in waiting at center. Should get the first crack at the job with Max Unger retiring.— Larry Holder (@LarryHolder) March 17, 2019
Steelers OL B.J. Finney could be the Saints' replacement for Max Unger https://t.co/BInc3jTB4V— Steelers Wire (@TheSteelersWire) March 17, 2019
The Saints seemingly put everything to rest Sunday by signing former Vikings G/C Nick Easton after the free agent took a few days to make his final decision. Easton is expected to play center upon his arrival, his reported natural position.
Saints plan to play former Vikings’ guard Nick Easton at center, per source, filling the hole that Max Unger’s retirement created. Easton has started at center in the past. https://t.co/uz7UxDVU53— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 18, 2019
This is a 4-year, $24M deal for the #Saints and Nick Easton. They view him as a center to fill Max Unger’s shoes. https://t.co/EUTUIJXXvs— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 18, 2019
So who exactly is Nick Easton? And what can the Saints expect?
Nick Easton is a serviceable performer-has played center and guard-will play center w/the Saints. Has played for Ravens, 49ers & Vikings. Smart guy, technically sound & he’s a fighter upfront.— Michael Detillier (@MikeDetillier) March 18, 2019
Missed 2018 season w/ a neck injury. Similar to former Saints OC/OG. Jonathan Goodwin.
Easton is a four-year pro who played his college ball at Harvard where he was a 2x first-team Ivy League All-American in both 2013 and 2014 as a junior and senior.
After college, Easton went to the Baltimore Ravens and first caught the eyes of many teams with an impressive preseason where according pro football focus, he finished with the highest grade of any center.
Preseason grades on Nick Easton:— PFF NO Saints (@PFF_Saints) March 18, 2019
2015 (151 snaps): 88.8 ovr, 74.2 pass blk, 90.0 run blk
2016 (127 snaps): 58.1 over, 69.9 pass blk, 53.6 run blk
2017 (90 snaps): 62.6 over, 56.2 pass blk, 63.7 run blk
This is some extra info since he only has grades for 2 of his 4 years.
However, Easton would soon be traded to the San Francisco 49ers and wouldn’t earn his first start until the 2016 season where he was then apart of the Minnesota Vikings. Easton started five games to end that season, leading into his first opportunity the next as a full-time starter —but this time at guard.
Career grades on new #Saints OL Nick Easton:— PFF NO Saints (@PFF_Saints) March 18, 2019
2016: 56.4 overall grade (414 snaps, 91.8% at C, 8.2% as 6th OL)
2017: 57.5 overall grade (748 snaps, 88.9% at LG, 11.1% at C)
Easton'd. @JustinW46437748 @fckngreg_ #WhoDat ⚜ https://t.co/O36lOf6252
Run Blocking:— PFF NO Saints (@PFF_Saints) March 18, 2019
'17: 64.9 https://t.co/XZdiOfgi1B
In 2017 Easton started 12 games for the Vikings before fracturing his ankle in Week 16.
The following season Easton was penciled in again as a starter looking forward to showing consistency in his play, and a clean bill of health. Here’s a scouting report from The Athletic’s Arif Hasan on Easton, done in August of that year.
This is what I wrote about him before his injury in early August pic.twitter.com/IS7piP9kJr— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) March 18, 2019
That healthy season as mentioned above never arrived for Easton however, as a neck injury forced him to injured reserve in training camp —ending his season.
Vikings’ G Nick Easton underwent surgery this morning to correct a herniated disc in his neck and his season is likely over, per his agent Joe Linta. But it is not expected to be a career-ending injury.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 9, 2018
The tools are available for Easton if healthy to thrive next to an extremely talented offensive line in the big easy. Knowing Sean Payton, Easton won’t be handed the job, but the early odds are definitely in his favor.
His ability to pass block at a high level to go with his overall athleticism should pencil him in as an upside addition to the Saints’ philosophy offensively. As for Easton’s run blocking issues, we should expect the Saints to have a vision on how to not trap him in consistent problematic situations and matchups (His training camp battles versus Malcom Brown will be something to keep an eye on).
We’ve seen New Orleans plug in various players at the center position and thrive before. Jonathan Goodwin, and Brian de la Puente immediately come to mind. Nick Easton arguably possesses more talent than each from an eye test perspective alone. He should be able to fit right in longterm —if he can stay on the field.