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Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin and Bernard Pollard—those are some of the grizzled veterans that the Ravens lost last summer. But nobody was missed more than center Matt Birk.
His replacement, Gino Gradkowski, was the worst center in the league in 2013, according to the metrics of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Nobody on the offensive line (except for Eugene Monroe) played particularly well, but the entire line looked lost and discombobulated for most of 2013, and some of that should be attributed to the inexperience in the middle of the unit.
Gradkowski improved throughout the season, and he will still get every chance to earn a starting job in 2014. However, it would not be shocking for the Ravens to bring in some competition for the Delaware product.
For all his struggles, Gradkowski is entering just his third year in the league, and the coaching staff also has high hopes for second-year player Ryan Jensen. There is enough youth at the position on the roster, so Baltimore may opt to go after an experienced center like Brian de la Puente.
The New Orleans Saints are facing quite the salary cap pickle this offseason, and with free agent Jimmy Graham sure to command a ton of money and attention, they may not be able to hold onto their center.
ESPN's Mike Triplett broke down what his new team will be getting:
As for de la Puente, I'm not sure what his market value will be as a free agent. He struggled a bit early last season, but he finished strong. And he was excellent in both 2011 and 2012. The 6-3, 306-pounder was part of one of the greatest offenses in NFL history in 2011 when he was first thrust into the starting lineup. And he has been versatile as a pass protector, run blocker and screen-pass blocker in the Saints' multiple offense. It may depend on how many teams have a strong need at the center position.
The center is very important in Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme, so it may be worth the money to invest in an experienced leader who has the confidence to make the right calls on the field.