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LiveBall Transaction Anaylsis: Center Roulette

If I’d had made a wager a couple weeks ago, I would have guessed that the lockout and shutdown of offseason NFL activities would have locked down the movement of NFL centers, at least for this year.  Compared to other positions on the OL, center is a recognition position, where the player manning the position has to be sharp mentally, if not physically.

That ended up not being the case.  Four teams participated in a game of center roulette, more than I can remember in any other year.  The Redskins and Seahawks promoted from within, making six teams with center “upgrades”.  Lets take an in look at the four players that moved.

Out: Rich Seubert and Shaun O’Hara, New York Giants

Seubert and O’Hara both ended the 2010 season on injured reserve for the Giants.  Their likely inability to pass physicals with the Giants plus the overall age of the unit made them easy targets for decreasing the Giants cap obligation in 2010, making the most out of a bad situation.  The Giants promoted from within on the left side of their line, but went outside the organization to replace their center.  Part of the reason was obvious: O’Hara and Seubert were one and two on the Giants depth chart at center the last few years.  There was no replacement waiting in the wings.

David Baas: San Francisco to New York

Baas was drafted in the second round in the 2004 NFL draft, just a couple of picks after the Giants took Chris Snee: in a nearby world, Bass would have been a Giant from the beginning.  He was the best center on the market, and it makes sense that the Giants would act quickly to poach him from the 49ers.  Baas was expected to resign with the 49ers, but the Giants had a need, and this proves that some organizations near the top of the NFL totem poll can recover quickly from unfortunate situations.  Other teams will start Jonathon Goodwin because they have no other choice.

Jonathon Goodwin: New Orleans to San Francisco

The 49ers came out of the lockout knowing they had to lock up their center, but because they never bothered to get an extension done with Bass before the lockout, they lost control of the best player on the market.  The options to replace him weren’t very good: Olin Kreutz wouldn’t sign with San Francisco after visiting.  The 49ers didn’t show much interest in C Chris Spencer, formerly of the Seahawks.  Eventually, SF signed Jonathon Goodwin because the Saints weren’t committed to him, and they needed to find someone to play.  Free agency actually went pretty well for the 49ers, who got bargain one year deals on CB Carlos Rogers and WR Braylon Edwards, but their OL around LG Mike Iupati is a disaster zone.  Goodwin will provide some stability.

Olin Kreutz: Chicago to New Orleans

The Saints probably did the best in this Center shuffle, because a shrewd move in the late rounds of the draft last year to grab Boston College C Matt Tennant gave them a capable starting player that meant they would not have to spend money to keep Jonathon Goodwin.  The Saints have high aspirations this year, and so they took an opportunity to find a hard-nosed vet who could play at a higher level than either Tennant or Goodwin could for a year.

The Saints won this knowing they would have been fine had they not been able to land Kreutz, but poaching him from the Bears makes their interior offensive line the best in the league.

Chris Spencer: Seattle to Chicago

At the same time that the Giants were parting ways with their mid-line guys, the Bears were engaged in ugly contract extension talks for Kreutz.  The ultimate take away here is that the Bears weren’t enthralled with Kreutz’ performance, and felt that they could acquire an upgrade in Chris Spencer.  On the surface, it looks like Chicago was just being cheap and it cost them the heart and soul of their line.  But lets be fair: a change was in the works.  The Bears will need to make Spencer a better player than he was in Seattle to realize an upgrade here, but Mike Tice did a really good job with the Bears OL last year, and so Chicago is a good landing spot for an underachiver like Spencer.

The big idea here was that the Bears knew that they had in Kreutz, and felt like they have more ability now in Spencer.

Max Ungar/Will Montgomery join NFL’s brotherhood of Centers

Two rebuilding teams are going to move their 2010 right guards to center in 2011.  Max Unger and Will Montgomery were college centers who their current teams are hoping to find will be solutions on the interior.  Unger is a pretty good bet to be the Seattle center of the future.  His skill set projects well inside (perhaps to pro bowl level in the NFC), and he’s already a proven interior player in the NFL.  Montgomery, on the other hand, has a lot more to prove, but after six years of Casey Rabach at that position, I think most Redskins fans are excited and primed for an upgrade.

The best available players at the position in free agency remain O’Hara, Seubert, and Rabach, but after Rabach failed a physical with the Ravens, it is unclear if any of these players will be physically able to play in the 2011 season.  It could be that the centers’ market that fostered this unprecedented case of OL roulette, has finally been saturated, with supply and demand meeting eye to eye.

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