Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana
METAIRIE – Jonathan Goodwin never sold his house outside New Orleans when he left the Saints to sign as a free agent with San Francisco in 2011. And the veteran center never deleted Saints’ general manager Mickey Loomis’ number from his phone either.
So when Loomis’ number came up on Goodwin’s phone last April when he was unsigned and contemplating retirement, something more than Goodwin’s inner child materialized.
“My wife said I was acting like a little girl,” Goodwin said Thursday after the Saints closed their three-day mini-camp session. “It feels great to be back. This was the place I loved to be at in the first place. It’s rare when this happens in the NFL. I’m very grateful they decided to take me back.”
Goodwin, 35, left the New York Jets and joined the Saints in 2006 when everything with the franchise turned better in Coach Sean Payton’s first year. He started from 2006 through 2010 at center and made the Pro Bowl in the 2009 season when New Orleans won Super Bowl XLIV.
He signed a three-year contract for $10.9 million with San Francisco before the 2011 season and started every game over the last three seasons, and he reached Super Bowl XVII after the 2012 season when the 49ers fell to Baltimore in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“I don’t regret anything,” Goodwin said. “It definitely gave me a different perspective, and I played for a different offense. But deep down, I never wanted to leave. It just didn’t work out that way.”
Goodwin kept Loomis’ number for a reason.
“I’ll never forget that even when I left, Mickey reached out to me,” he said. “He said he was grateful for what I did with the Saints, and he said if I ever needed anything to let him know. That’s why I was so happy when he called me.”
The 12-year veteran signed a one-year deal for about $1 million early this month.
Goodwin also kept his home address in Luling.
“I tried to sell it when we went to San Francisco,” he said. “But we found a leak, and took it off the market to get it fixed. We just never put it back on the market, and I guess there was a reason. It was just great to come back. We still had a home here. I know the offense. It’s just been a blessing. I’m really overjoyed.”
Goodwin’s old job is not necessarily there, though. Brian de la Puente, the Saints starting center the last three seasons, signed with Chicago after the 2013 season, but the projected starter at center is second-year pro Tim Lelito, who was signed by the Saints as an undrafted free agent out of Grand Valley State last year. Goodwin will still be a valuable asset as a backup, though, if he does not get the starting job.
“He’s someone that’s a quick study,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of Goodwin Thursday after practice. “He’s experienced. He’s a quiet guy initially, but he brings experience to that meeting room. And from a center standpoint, he’s been through a lot of the nuances of the position. And I think he’s someone that can help those guys. So it’s been good to have him back.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees welcomed Goodwin back with a big hug and a big smile. Goodwin, who turned 35 in December, is one of the few players on the Saints older than Brees.
“Drew asked me if I still feel young,” Goodwin said. “I asked him the same thing. Hopefully, I can help us keep winning some games here.”