No one really has any idea how the Bears' offensive line is going to shake out in 2011. The biggest question is whether or not C Olin Kreutz will be re-signed. The veteran brings experience and leadership but he's obviously on the decline. If Kreutz chooses to walk, Chicago would most likely move Roberto Garza to center, leaving a hole at right guard.
Additionally, where does Chris Williams play next year? He's a natural tackle but played well when thrown into duty at left guard. Does the coaching staff keep him in the middle or slide him back outside?
All of these questions need to eventually be sorted out, but in the meantime here are five guards who the Bears could pick up in free agency, each of which would give a boost to Chicago's front five.
G Logan Mankins
Logan Mankins – Patriots
New England has placed the franchise tag on Mankins, but the new CBA could make the tag obsolete. Additionally, the Patriots are asking him to take a pay cut. For a player who is in a position to earn an elite contract for multiple years, that doesn't seem likely. If Mankins hits the open market, he'll attract a lot of attention.
Chicago badly needs a player with Mankins' experience up front. He has never missed a start, playing in every game since being drafted in 2005. He is a nasty, physical guard with good initial quickness off the ball. His work at the second level against linebackers is solid.
Mankins is one of the best in the game. By placing him next to Kreutz, assuming he is re-signed, Chicago immediately would have one of the more experienced interior duos in the league. He'll come at a price, but if he is available in free agency, the Bear's front office would be smart to make a run at him.
Robert Gallery – Raiders
Gallery came into the league as a left tackle. He underperformed at the position and was moved to guard, where he has flourished. There is no chance he'll stay in Oakland, so he will be on the market.
At 6-7, 325-pounds, Gallery is a physical specimen. He is not the most nimble-footed interior lineman but he's a strong finisher once he gets his hands on an opposing player. He missed 10 games in 2009 with a lower back injury but he's been relatively healthy otherwise.
Gallery will be looked at by many teams this offseason. The problem is that he's already made it clear he'd like to play for former Raiders head coach and offensive line guru Tom Cable, who is now in Seattle. Yet if the Seahawks can't make it work, Gallery would be a solid upgrade at Chicago's guard position.
G Carl Nicks
Carl Nicks – Saints
Coming off his first Pro Bowl last season, Nicks was tendered by New Orleans but soon that won't mean anything. The Saints will surely try to re-sign the 25-year-old to a long-term deal but he is in high demand and could see more money in free agency. The team also spent a pretty penny on right guard Jahri Evans – $8 million-plus per season – so they may not have the luxury of keeping both.
At 6-5, 343-pounds, Nicks is just massive. He engulfs opponents with his size and uses his hands well to control and steer opponents past the pocket. He played tackle in college, and is still learning the guard position, so his best years are surely ahead of him.
Nicks would be a stalwart along the Bears' offensive line for many years if Chicago were able to pry him away from the Saints. He's young, talented and has the size to be a dominating road-grater. Many teams are in need of his services, so he won't come cheap, but if the Bears are serious about improving the front five, Nicks would be money well spent.
Davin Joseph – Buccaneers
Tampa Bay considered placing the franchise tag on Joseph. That's how highly they think of him. They opted not to tag him but will definitely look to re-sign him. The 27-year-old is line for a big payday though, and many feel he'll try to find out how much he's worth in free agency.
At 6-3, 313-pounds, Joseph isn't enormous but he plays low to the ground and makes up for in quickness what he lacks in size. He's a powerful drive blocker with outstanding upper-body strength. He has enough initial quickness and agility to get out and pull or to climb to the second level.
Joseph is considered one of the elite at his position and many scouts feel he is just entering his prime. He does have durability issues, most recently a broken foot, but his talent won't be overlooked. He'll be just as expensive as the other top free agent players at his position but the tape shows a skilled player who would make a great addition in Chicago.
Harvey Dahl – Falcons
The Falcons would like to re-sign Dahl, but they have another, younger guard in Justin Blalock that is also a free agent. Odds are, they'll only be able to sign one. If Dahl is allowed to walk, the Bears' front office would be wise to contact his agent.
The 29-year-old is a savvy veteran who has started the last 27 games he's played in. He missed five games in 2009 with an ankle injury. No one area of his game outshines the others but he's a solid blocker with excellent size, agility and body control.
The 6-5, 305-pound Nevada product is not a player who wows you on tape but he's an experienced lineman who could come in and provide an immediate upgrade at the guard position. Also, he won't cost as much as some of the other free agent guards, which could be just the thing that earns him Jerry Angelo's attention.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.