Does Max Unger Injury put Jason Kelce in Play for Saints?
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It's an easy connection to make and many are already speculating that the New Orleans Saints could be in the market for veteran center Jason Kelce.
The simple arithmetic stems from the news that Saints center Max Unger suffered a foot injury, which could have him starting the season on the PUP list, according to NFL Media.
If that's the case, the two-time Pro Bowl selection would miss at least six weeks of the season for a team coming off three consecutive 7-9 campaigns and looking to become relevant again in a division featuring the last two NFC champions, Carolina and Atlanta, as well as the up-and-coming Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
From there it's logical to assume that if the Saints are looking for a center, Philadelphia would be first on the speed dial because the Eagles have a plethora of bodies at the position, including Kelce, veteran backup Stefen Wisniewski, second-year man Isaac Seumalo and priority undrafted free agent Tyler Orlosky.
Because the Eagles signed Wisniewski to a three-year extension in the offseason and the team believes center is the best long-term position for Seumalo, Kelce, 29, has been the subject of trade speculation throughout the offseason because spinning off the veteran would save $3.8 million in cap space.
Despite that Kelce has remained in Philadelphia and executive VP of football operations Howie Roseman claimed he and linebacker Mychal Kendricks, another potential player who could be moved, remain in the team's plans for 2017.
"Yes, they are here," Roseman said after the draft, "and we fully anticipate that they're going to be here going forward."
Of course, Roseman said the same thing last season when it came to Sam Bradford even after the Eagles drafted Carson Wentz and that changed when Minnesota came calling after the Teddy Bridgewater injury.
Then there is the potential match in compensation.
On paper, the Saints are loaded at running back after signing Adrian Peterson in free agency and drafting Alvin Kamara to add to Mark Ingram. The Eagles, on the other hand, could certainly use a feature back like Ingram to add to a group headlined by Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles, and rookie Donnel Pumphrey.
There are elements which don't fit, however.
First is the actual damage to Unger. Sources in New Orleans say it's too early to determine his availability for the season opener and unlike Bridgewater, no one is spinning this as a potential season-ending injury meaning Unger, who is a better player than Kelce, will be back at some point.
The issue there is that Kelce is strictly a center and to be a backup in this league, you generally have to have versatility and be able to play multiple positions, something that's just not in Kelce's skill set.
Currently, the backup to Unger in NOLA is the versatile Senio Kelemete, who has starting experience and can move throughout the interior as a backup so the real question becomes how quickly Unger can get back.
If it's a few weeks into the season, it's unlikely New Orleans would want to bring in Kelce and certainly not for a significant asset like Ingram. If things turn south and 2017 is at risk for Unger, however, that changes the game.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen