The spring hasn’t been kind to the New Orleans Saints’ offensive line, which is now down 40 percent when it comes to Drew Brees’ bodyguards.
It’s arguably the most important 40 percent — the line’s leader, center Max Unger — who was lost to offseason foot surgery. Now veteran left tackle Terron Armstead, who tore his labrum in minicamp, will miss anywhere from four to six months of action.
Veteran guard Zach Strief confirmed the injury came during individual drills when Armstead was simply hitting a heavy bag.
Just from a calendar standpoint, the Armstead injury is obviously the more concerning loss because, in the best-case scenario, he will miss a large chunk of time in the regular season.
The Saints remain hopeful that Unger will be back and ready to go by Week 1, but spending an offseason centered on rehabilitation instead of preparation is never optimal for any player, even a veteran who understands what it takes to play in the NFL.
The next-man-up theme is a popular one in the NFL, almost a necessary path forward due to the injury rate in this league. However, it is also a hollow rallying cry rooted in optimism and little else.
Starters in the NFL are starters for a reason. Teams don’t give $65 million extensions to players (which New Orleans gave Armstead last offseason) they don’t think highly of.
New Orleans is lucky enough to have more options than most in a similar situation. Veteran Khalif Barnes as well as first-round pick Ryan Ramczyk, the spoils from the Brandin Cooks trade to New England, could fill in the gaps. The team could even consider kicking out Andrus Peat from left guard if forced.
No matter how positive you want to be, however, having a journeyman or a kid learning on the job to protect Brees certainly wasn’t Sean Payton’s plan in 2017. Nor was the domino effect of a position switch.
Plans are just that, however, and Payton has been around long enough to understand that when coaches plan, the football gods laugh.
Any NFL season is about overcoming adversity. The 31 other teams around the league will not take it easy on the 38-year-old Brees because of what is going on.
The strong always prey on the weak in this sport, and that’s why this has to be about getting Ramczyk up and rolling as quickly as possible and hoping another cliche — sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good — takes hold.
Remember last season in Dallas when the Cowboys tried to secure Connor Cook as their developmental quarterback and had to “settle” for Dak Prescott?
Then both Tony Romo and Kellen Moore (people tend to forget Moore) had to get injured before the Cowboys were forced to let the rookie sink or swim. It turns out Prescott wasn’t a stone, he was Michael Phelps — Dallas raced to the gold medal of 13 wins.
In other words, the Saints should forget about blowing the trumpet of next man up and just cross their fingers.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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