Free Agent Preview: Guard
The Bears signed Roberto Garza to a six-year extension at the end of the regular season last month, which gives them flexibility on the offensive line. Still Terrence Metcalf is an unrestricted free agent, who started the first 12 games and 13 overall. Garza looks like the logical starter next season. Metcalf is bigger and stronger, but Garza plays with better technique. There's still a chance Metcalf could be brought back at a reduced rate. As insurance, the Bears re-signed Lennie Friedman to a one-year deal so if Metcalf lands with another team the Bears will have an experienced backup. Still there could be a need to add more veteran depth. Here's a look at the top free agent guards.
Seattle Seahawks G Steve Hutchinson, an unrestricted free agent, is expected to get a long-term deal before the start of free agency. If something can't be worked out, the Seahawks are expected to put the franchise tag on Hutchinson to keep him in Seattle.
Minnesota Vikings G Toniu Fonoti, acquired near the trade deadline from San Diego, replaced Chris Liwienski at left guard but suffered a season-ending groin injury against the Packers. Fonoti is a pending free agent and reported to the Vikings at 404 pounds - 54 pounds more than his listed playing weight. However, if he can get in shape, Fonoti could be a force and would probably bump RG Adam Goldberg.
Carolina Panthers RG Tutan Reyes and C Jeff Mitchell are both unrestricted free agents. Don't expect the team to go out of its way to sign either. Remember, they have Evan Mathis, a third-round pick in 2005, and Geoff Hangartner, a fifth-round selection waiting in the wings to replace those guys. That may or may not happen this year, but it's hard to imagine Carolina spending much money to keep either Mitchell or Reyes.
New England Patriots RG Stephen Neal, who is a free agent, didn't play football in college (he was an NCAA wrestling champion) but has developed into a very solid player, one who could draw interest on the open market.
Oakland Raiders G Corey Hulsey, an unrestricted free agent, never got a good look even though the guards were struggling - indicating he is strictly a fringe player.
San Diego Chargers G Kris Dielman supplanted Toniu Fonoti at LG before Fonoti was traded to Minnesota. Dielman, a restricted free agent, is expected to be back.
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