2014 NFL Free Agency: Do the Packers Have a Backup Plan at Center?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

We discuss potential backup plans at center and why Don Barclay might not be the best option as a reserve center.

With the Packers recent decision to not bring back veteran offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith (who signed with Tampa Bay for four years, $14.5 million), the projected starter at center for Week 1 is second-year player JC Tretter. The 2013 fourth-round pick out of Cornell broke his ankle during the first practice of Organized Team Activities last spring, and has zero career snaps to his name due to the severity of the injury.

With $16 million in cap space and a need for experience at the position, the center spot would be a top candidate for a free agent addition. The coaching staff appears to have a lot of faith that Tretter can get the job done, but that doesn't mean the team can afford to gamble on the unproven prospect with no veteran backup in place. Some have suggested that Don Barclay may be moved to center, after being moved from guard to right tackle. Barclay may be the current backup plan, but after a 2013 season that saw Barclay grade out as one of the worst run blocking offensive linemen on the team (-14.6), I don't think Barclay is the best option as the second-string center.

According to ESPN.com's Bill Polian, the top remaining unsigned centers in free agency are former Bengals center Kyle Cook and former Saints center Brian de la Puente.

Kyle Cook

Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 290 pounds
Draft Year: 2007

2013 Stats:

Overall: -3.6
Run Block: -4.4
Pass Block: +0.1
Penalties: 4
Sacks Allowed: 5
Hurries Allowed: 12

As you can see, Cook didn't grade out very well according to Pro Football Focus in 2013, which shouldn't come as a surprise considering he is still available this late in free agency. By comparison, Evan Dietrich-Smith finished +14.2 overall in 2013 with a +6.1 grade in pass protection and +3.7 in the run blocking.

Cook is about the same size as Dietrich-Smith at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, which would go against the common belief that the Packers coaching staff is trying to get bigger bodies along the offensive line. Cook would bring a relatively young, yet experienced body into the mix at center. This wouldn't be the same as picking up 37-year-old Jeff Saturday at a discount price and hoping for the best, as Cook still has plenty of time to improve and has a much higher ceiling than Barclay. I would be surprised if the Packers were interested in Cook, but this is an example of the type of free agent backup plan that is still available at the center position.

Brian de la Puente

Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 306 pounds
Draft Year: 2008

2013 Stats:

Overall: +6.1
Run Block: -3.6
Pass Block: +4.3
Penalties: 5
Sacks Allowed: 3
Hurries Allowed: 10

De la Puente appears to be the better option of the two according to the PFF grades. De la Puente is also younger and bigger than Cook, and appears to be more of a cap-clearing casualty than a performance-based cut. The only detractor on de la Puente is that he did not grade out well in run blocking and is coming from a team that did not ask him to run block on a consistent basis.

Ultimately, the Packers are unlikely to sign either Cook or de la Puente, but I found it interesting that the team has not addressed the backup center position in free agency with a few quality backup plans still on the market. Unless the two are asking for unreasonable contract numbers, and Ted Thompson is simply playing the waiting game, I believe this would be a major mistake with such limited playing experience in the projected two-deep depth chart.

Regardless of who starts at center in 2014, it will be the fourth different center for Aaron Rodgers in four seasons, which isn't ideal. Throw in inexperience at the position, and you have a recipe for disaster in 2014 if a single injury were to hit the offensive line.

Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com.
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