Source: Saints sign OL Easton to replace Unger

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have a new leading contender for their starting center vacancy.

The Saints agreed to a four-year, $24 million contract with former Minnesota Vikings guard/center Nick Easton, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The agreement comes one day after news broke that the Saints' Pro Bowl center Max Unger is retiring, and the Saints plan to play Easton at center, according to the source. Easton, 26, missed all of last season because of surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. But he started a total of 17 games at both guard and center for the Vikings in 2016 and 2017.

Unger said in a conference call Monday that health was a big reason for his decision to retire after he had been dealing with a long-term lower body injury.

"I didn't think I could make it through another season," said the 10-year veteran, who said his doctor recommended a surgery that would have sidelined him for most of the offseason.

Unger made the Pro Bowl this past season but didn't think he was still playing up to his standard, which he said is a "tough pill to swallow." And he said he knew from experience that his performance was affected in 2017 when he missed most of the summer because of foot surgery.

Unger said he made his decision in the last month or so and let the Saints know in plenty of time before the start of free agency.

Easton, who is 6-foot-3, 303-pounds, began his career as a popular undrafted center out of Harvard in 2015. He originally signed with the Baltimore Ravens, then was traded to the San Francisco 49ers that September and traded to the Vikings that October.

In New Orleans, he will have to compete with third-year undrafted center Cameron Tom, among others, for the starting gig. The Saints have one of the top offensive lines in football. But Unger will be hard to replace after starting 67 of 68 games over the past four years, including the playoffs and serving as a captain.