It’s been a virtual assumption that the Saints would sign center Jonathan Goodwin this offseason, and both the NFL Network and ESPN on Monday reported it’s expected to happen at some point this week.
NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport, who cited an anonymous source on the information, suggested the Saints had been waiting to make the move until after June 1, which was Sunday, when the signings of veteran free agents don’t affect the formula used to determine which teams get compensatory draft picks.
That somewhat makes sense, though the Saints may not have had a compensatory draft pick in 2015 as a result of their most prominent departure via free agency: Malcolm Jenkins. After Jenkins left, New Orleans quickly acquired a player who’s been held in higher regard than him: three-time Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd.
If the long-awaited signing of Goodwin indeed materializes, it’s anticipated he will mainly compete with second-year offensive lineman Tim Lelito for a spot that was vacated when Brian de la Puente, the Saints’ starting center since 2011, recently left for the Chicago Bears in free agency.
Goodwin was in New Orleans already from 2006-10, then left for San Francisco in free agency for three seasons and was back on the open market. The 35-year-old was a Pro Bowler the year the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV.
With Goodwin at center, the 49ers made it to the NFC title game three times and the Super Bowl once. He was entrenched on an offensive line tasked with being in front of one of the NFL’s most intricate running schemes, a ground game that respectively finished eighth, fourth and third in yards per game in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Nonetheless, Goodwin was allowed to become a free agent after the 49ers signed guard/center Daniel Kilgore to a three-year extension. Kilgore — a fifth-round draft pick for the 49ers in 2011 — has 33 games of NFL experience exclusively as a backup, but he’s nine years younger than Goodwin.
Goodwin, who spent his first four years in the NFL with the New York Jets before his first stint in New Orleans, would have a more than viable chance to be the Saints’ starting center if brought in.
While Saints coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis have expressed confidence in Lelito’s potential and have said he’ll be given a fair shot to win the gig at center, the young lineman’s only NFL regular-season experience as a starter were two games at right guard in place of an injured Jahri Evans last year.
Lelito played center with the first team during drills at the Saints’ opening series of voluntary organized team activities, which ran from Tuesday to Thursday. They resume Tuesday.
But both Payton and Loomis have repeatedly said the Saints were leaving the option of bringing in a more established center this offseason to compete with Lelito, especially after passing on the chance to draft a rookie at the position in May.
Young free agents the Saints signed shortly after the draft include Matt Armstrong — Lelito’s former college teammate at Grand Valley State who won the award given to the best center in the small-school Football Championship Subdivision in 2013 — and Mike Golic Jr., who was a guard and center at Notre Dame before trying out for Pittsburgh last year and not making the team.