The Bears surprised me yesterday by adding veteran center Brian de la Puente. From Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune:
“De la Puente, the Saints’ starting center the last three seasons, agreed to terms Sunday on a one-year contract for the minimum-salary benefit with the understanding he is coming in to play behind starter Roberto Garza, a captain and the leader in the offensive line room.”
There were questions going in to this season at center for the Bears. The succession plan for Garza, who is 35 years old, wasn’t apparent. No one knew for sure what the Bears thought of back up Taylor Boggs as the heir apparent and many of us were waiting to see if the Bears drafted another lineman to compete for the job.
De la Puente’s signing was surprising because he’s not exactly young at 29 years old. However, he’s not old either. So the question now is whether de la Puente is the a one year fill in who took a minimum salary benefit deal or if he’s the starting center of the future, al be it a future of only a few years.
Pro Football Focus had de la Puente rated as their number six free agent going into the signing period. He was their number two center on the market behind Alex Mack:
“De La Puente is a good pass-blocking center; in his three seasons as a starter he has never posted a Pass Blocking Efficiency under 98.2 and has given up a total of 46 pressures in 2144 passing snaps. In his best season has a pro, 2012, De La Puente managed to take his pass-blocking skill set and add to it by drastically improving his run blocking. In 2011 and 2013 he put up a poor combined run blocking grade of -8.5, but showed in 2012 what he was capable of by recording a +13.6.
“With De La Puente turning 29 before the season, interested teams will either have to accept the idea that he is simply good pass blocker who struggles in the run game, or bank on him regaining his form from 2012. The team that adds De La Puente to their roster will be getting a reliable player who, in the past three seasons, has not missed any time due to injury.”
It’s possible that both the Bears and de la Puente are hoping that he reclaims his form of 2012 and improves his run blocking again under his old offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. We may get to see if that happens if he’s needed as the back up this year. If he does, it will clear up a number of issues.
But the offseason isn’t over yet and what the Bears are thinking still isn’t entirely clear. The one thing we now know for sure is that the Bears weren’t totally comfortable with Boggs backing up Garza. The Bears aren’t likely to keep three centers as it is unless the third guy can play guard and Boggs’ future with the team this year is in serious jeopardy. It remains to be seen what happens to him. And the Bears may still pick up another younger center. If they do, we’ll know the answer to Boggs’ future and, even if its just a late round pick, de la Puente will have a tough hurdle to overcome to become the Bears starter in 2015.