Saints could lose invaluable 'sixth man' Senio Kelemete as free agent

If the NFL had a “sixth man” of the year award ... well, it would go to Nick Foles or Case Keenum. The quarterbacks get all the love.

But if they had an “underappreciated sixth man” award, it might go to New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Senio Kelemete.

The five-year veteran started another nine games for the Saints this season, including the playoff finale, for a total of 23 starts over the past three years. And he has played all five offensive line positions during that span, which is extremely rare in the NFL.

So it will leave an extremely big void in the Saints’ depth chart if they lose Kelemete as an unrestricted free agent, which is possible if another team is willing to offer a full-time starting gig and more money.

That’s why I don’t feel great about listing the guards/centers all the way back at No. 10 in my position-by-position rankings of the Saints’ offseason needs. But when it comes to their starting lineup, at least, they are about as stacked as any team in the NFL with center Max Unger, Pro Bowl right guard Larry Warford and left guard Andrus Peat.

Current depth chart:

Max Unger. Age 31, signed through 2019. 2018 salary and bonuses: $6.25 million. 2018 salary-cap number: $8 million.

Larry Warford. Age 26, signed through 2020. 2018 salary and bonuses: $6.9 million. 2018 salary-cap number: $9 million.

Andrus Peat. Age 24, signed through 2018 (Saints can exercise fifth-year tender on him through 2019). 2018 salary and bonuses: $1.99 million. 2018 salary-cap number: $3.625 million.

Senio Kelemete. Age 27, unrestricted free agent.

Josh LeRibeus. Age 28, unrestricted free agent.

Cameron Tom. Age 22, scheduled to become exclusive-rights free agent in 2019. 2018 salary and bonuses: $555,000. 2018 salary-cap number: $555,000.

John Fullington. Age 26, scheduled to become exclusive-rights free agent in 2019. 2018 salary and bonuses: $480,000. 2018 salary-cap number: $480,000.

Landon Turner. Age 24, signed to reserve/futures contract.

Jack Allen. Age 25, exclusive rights free agent.

Nate Theaker. Age 24, signed to reserve/futures contract.

Andrew Tiller. Age 28, signed to reserve/futures contract.

Gabe Ikard. Age 27, signed to reserve/futures contract.

Analysis:

The Saints obviously made a great investment in Warford, who was by far their most expensive free-agent signing last year (four years, $34 million to sign him away from the Detroit Lions). He made his first career Pro Bowl as an alternate. But really, any one of these interior starters could have made the Pro Bowl after the Saints led the NFL in both yards per rush (4.7) and yards per pass attempt (8.1).

Unger had another terrific season, playing every snap despite missing most of the summer due to foot surgery. He has been a terrific addition as both a player and leader since coming over in the blockbuster Jimmy Graham trade with the Seattle Seahawks in 2015. And Peat had by far the best season of his three-year career before suffering a season-ending leg injury in the playoff opener. The 2015 first-round draft pick continued to show his versatility by starting 11 games at left guard and four at left tackle.

The depth beyond those three is a big question mark, though -- despite the large number of players on the list above -- especially when you consider how often Peat has been needed at left tackle while starter Terron Armstead has battled injuries.

Tom and Fullington are intriguing young prospects who could step into bigger roles. (The Saints promoted Tom from their practice squad to their active roster during the season to avoid losing him to another team.) But the Saints might look to add a veteran or invest a draft pick in their interior line if they’re unable to keep Kelemete.

Previous rankings:

No. 11 Running backs

No. 12 Specialists