The Chicago Bears have a need in free agency, they need to start to rebuild the offensive line and the perfect place to start would be by signing free agent center Brian de la Puente from the Saints. The center from New Orleans represents an ideal fit for the Bears for a number of different reasons which I will list here.
First the Bears have a need at the center position, Roberto Garza is entering the final year of his contract and he'll be 34-years-old in March. Garza was one of the better offensive linemen on the team in 2012, but that shouldn't matter when considering de la Puente. The Bears have a right guard problem, Lance Louis is going to be fighting back from reconstructive knee surgery, Garza has experience playing right guard meaning if the Bears grab de la Puente, Garza can slide over.
Garza sliding back over to right guard while Louis heals next season would provide instant stability to the offensive line at a much needed point in time. His experience there is invaluable so it would be a favorable position for the Bears to be in while Louis recovers.
Next de la Puente is a third-year starting center from the New Orleans Saints who knows Kromer's offense. He knows Kromer's terminology, the line calls and all of the responsibilities that Garza currently does not know. This automatically make him a huge upgrade at the position because of his youth and familiarity with Kromer.
The most important position on the offensive line is the center position after the offensive tackle spots because they are the anchors of the offensive line with their knowledge and communication needed to get people in the right place. De La Puente already has this skill from his time with Kromer, which no rookie would have. The Bears would be foolish to entrust a rookie with this responsibility and Kromer being a third-year player means the Bears could sign him to a long-term deal.
Further, de la Puente graded out as the highest rated center on the free agent market this year with a plus 23.0 rating according to ProFootballFocus. He only had two games on the season in which he graded out negatively according to their metrics.
While de la Puente is only a restricted free agent this should not deter the Bears from pursuing him in free agency. The Saints have the right to match any offer sheet the Bears can offer him, but would not be due any compensation for de la Puente because he was an undrafted free agent coming out of college. Teams are not due any compensation for any undrafted players according the parameters laid out by the restricted free agency terms.
The Bears also would be smart to give de la Puente a strong deal because the New Orleans Saints have the second worst salary cap situation of any team in the NFL. By giving de la Puente a strong free agency deal the Bears would have a better chance to pluck him away as a free agent.
Signing de la Puente would instantaneously allow the Bears to focus on drafting a left guard in the draft. Two veteran presences to the left and to the right of a rookie left guard position would put that rookie in the best possible position to learn. Offensive lines are much more stable as a whole if a rookie is targeted at left guard to play next to an experienced center who knows the offensive system.
With everything considered signing Brian de la Puente to be the starting center just makes entirely too much sense. A good young player who knows the system with no requirement to give up compensation if the Bears sign him. Phil Emery would be a fool not to make Brian de la Puente the top off-season priority to sign on the open free agent market.