Guard market gets thin

If the Packers intended to find at least one replacement for guards Mike Wahle and Rivera during free agency, the pickings are becoming much slimmer.

Wahle and Rivera were the undisputed top guards available, and both found new homes just two days into the signing period; Wahle with Carolina and Rivera with Dallas. If the Packers hoped to replace those A-listers with quality but less expensive free agents, that plan has taken a serious hit.

Behind the former Packers duo, three of the next four best available guards have already signed. Cosey Coleman, 26, visited Green Bay on Monday but agreed to a multiyear deal with Cleveland that night. Another of the standout guards on the market, longtime Philadelphia starter Jermane Mayberry, signed with New Orleans over the weekend. Ben Hamilton, meanwhile, is staying in Denver.

The last of the quality guards on the market is former Indianapolis Colt Rick DeMulling. A three-year starter, the 304-pounder not only plays with power but is good out in space, which is key for the Packers' offense.

However, as easily the best guard remaining on the market, DeMulling might be able to name his price. The price likely will be high considering the huge checks given to the aforementioned players. Mayberry, for instance, received a $5 million signing bonus, and DeMulling may be more highly thought of because he's younger (27 compared to 31).

After Coleman and DeMulling, there's a large dropoff among the remaining free-agent guards.

Ranked seventh on's list is former Bronco Dan Neil. Neil is 31 and probably would only be a stopgap solution. At 285 pounds, Neil isn't big but he's feisty (or dirty, depending on if you're talking to a teammate or an opponent) and more in the mold of Rivera than Wahle.

No. 8 on the list is former Packer Joe Andruzzi, who will be joined by Coleman in Cleveland.

A few other names worth keeping in mind are 26-year-old Keydrick Vincent, 25-year-old Roberto Garza and 28-year-old Bennie Anderson.

The 330-pound Vincent was a replacement starter in Pittsburgh for Kendall Simmons and had a good year helping lead the Steelers' power running game and protecting rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Garza, who also can play center, started 15 of 16 games for Atlanta last season. The 296-pounder is tough, strong and has quick feet, but never became the standout the Falcons hoped for when they drafted him in the fourth round in 2001. Packers line coach Larry Beightol, however, is one of the best in the business and might be able to bring the best out of Garza.

The 335-pound Anderson, as you'd expect from someone his size, is a strong run blocker. He's not mobile though, and thus might not fit well in the Packers' guard-pulling scheme.

If the Packers pull out of the free agent market, other solutions at guard are tackle Kevin Barry and the recently re-signed Brad Bedell. The Packers could turn to the draft, or shuffle their remaining parts by moving tackle Mark Tauscher inside or center Mike Flanagan.

The Packers have not announced the signing of Bedell, but his agent confirmed the move with several newspapers on the day the Packers released safety Michael Hawthorne. Bedell signed for the one-year minimum of $540,000.

The Packers are about $3 million under the salary cap. That number would more than double if they release safety Darren Sharper by Friday, when he's slated to receive a $2.6 million roster bonus. Sharper's cap number is slotted for $8.633 million, which includes a base salary of $3.4 million that would be wiped from the books.

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