The New Orleans Saints might have dealt left guard Ben Grubbs to the Chiefs for a fifth-round pick a few weeks ago, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were thrilled about doing it.
Saints coach Sean Payton told reporters Wednesday at the NFL’s annual meetings that the Chiefs are getting a very good all-around player in the 31-year-old Grubbs, who made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2013.
“He’s versatile, I think he’s got very good feet, I think he’ll be very good at getting up to the second level, and he’s smart,” Payton said.
Most importantly, Payton said, Grubbs is a tough guy who rarely misses games; he has started all 16 games for the Saints the last three seasons, and has started 118 of 128 possible regular-season games in his eight-year career.
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“The other thing (that’s important) with those interior linemen, he’s available,” Payton said. “He’s healthy week after week. He’s a player that we’ll miss in the locker room. He’s a great teammate.”
Finally, Payton added, Grubbs is consistent.
“There’s a lot (to be said) when you know what you’re getting each week with somebody,” Payton said. “There’s a value in that and I think Andy (Reid) will see that.”
Which leads to the obvious question — why trade him?
After posting a Pro Football Focus grade of 14.7 in 2013 which ranked 11th out of 81 qualifying guards, the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder posted a grade of negative-0.2 in 2014, which ranked 35th out of 78 qualifying guards.
Grubbs missed portions of training camp last August with an undisclosed neck injury, and was listed on the injury report late in the season with a neck injury, even though he didn’t miss any games.
But when asked if Grubbs was playing through an injury last year, Payton seemed to hint he was, though he couched it by adding that most interior linemen are through something once the season begins and bumps and bruises begin to accumulate.
“I don’t know if you can find a guard that’s not playing through something after week three or four,” Payton said. “There’s a back, there’s all of a sudden a hand, a wrist … I think that’s pretty common.”
Regardless, Grubbs’ PFF grade in 2014 was higher than any of the Chiefs’ starting three guards (Mike McGlynn, Jeff Linkenbach and Zach Fulton) by a significant margin, which made him an attractive option for Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, who was put in a position to acquire Grubbs because of the Saints’ significant cap issues.
Grubbs, the Saints’ left guard, was slated to have a $9.6 million cap hit this season and Jahri Evans, the Saints’ right guard, set to have an $11 million cap hit. New Orleans, which has the least amount of cap space in the league, knew it would have to make a choice between the two, because a combined $20.6 million cap hit for two 31-year-olds at a non-essential position is simply too much for any reasonable NFL team to bear.
“We knew we were going to be able to afford (to keep) one of the guards,” Payton said. “Both guys, we have great respect for, we graded very closely.”
The Saints obviously chose to keep Evans, who is reportedly a player the team is open to restructuring with, even though he is the same age as Grubbs (31) and actually posted a worse PFF grade in 2014 (negative-6.5).
However Payton, when asked directly, firmly stated Wednesday said the decision to trade Grubbs was not based on a belief that he could no longer play.
“Absolutely not,” Payton said. “Absolutely not ... we knew that we weren’t going to be able to keep both veteran guards.