Poised to hit free agency on Tuesday, Saints center Brian de la Puente has attracted interest from the Falcons and Buccaneers — two of New Orleans’ NFC South rivals — as well as the New York Giants, according to a league source.
The Saints have also expressed a desire to retain de la Puente, the source said Monday.
The 6-foot-3, 306-pound de la Puente, 28, has started 44 games for the Saints since 2011. He is one of 11 New Orleans players due to hit the open market when the free agency signing period begins at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
De la Puente made a salary of $2.02 million in 2013 while flanked by guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans. Under him on the Saints depth chart is Tim Lelito, a rookie who started in place of Evans in two games in 2013.
The New York Daily News’ Ralph Vacchiano first reported on Monday that the Giants were interested in signing de la Puente. Starting Giants center David Baas — who is 32 and played in just three games last year due to injuries — is owed $4.75 million; his team will reportedly cut him after exploring whether to reduce his pay.
For the Falcons, the center is young and inexperienced Joe Hawley. The Bucs’ center is Jeremy Zuttah, who has started all 32 games the past two seasons.
However, as ESPN has reported, Zuttah may be a candidate for release because he’s been average and the Bucs can clear his whole cap hit of $4.5 million without any dead money if they cut him. The Bucs’ offensive coordinator, interestingly, is Jeff Tedford, who coached de la Puente in college at Cal.
At the end of last season, de la Puente told reporters he wanted to return to New Orleans.
“I really like this team — I like the guys, I like the locker room, I like the coaches, the front office,” he said. “I think that’s big in this business.”
But the Saints are only about $2.7 million under the 2014 salary cap of $133 million as they enter free agency, and another team may be able to make de la Puente a better offer than New Orleans could.
Dolphins seeking Strief?
According to a report from the Miami Herald, the Dolphins plan to target Saints right tackle Zach Strief in free agency. Strief will hit unrestricted free agency Tuesday, his agent, Ralph Cindrich, has said.