Free agency preview: Guard

Packers seeking help at interior line position

After losing veteran starters Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera in free agency last year, the Green Bay Packers opted to rebuild the guard position with youth in 2005. Along with the youth came growing pains. As a result the Packers struggled to run the ball consistently.

Will Whitticker, selected in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL draft, started for most of the year at right guard. Second-year pro Scott Wells, more suited to play center, took over for Adrian Klemm at left guard for the final eight games of the season.

It is uncertain if the Packers will retain Klemm and veteran Grey Ruegamer. The Packers likely will select a guard in the NFL draft, but don't expect them to pursue a high-profile guard in free agency. Green Bay already took a step toward creating competition at guard by signing Wayne Lucier to a free agent contract earlier this month. Lucier was out of football last year, but is a versatile lineman and gained experience playing guard and center (starting 20 of 27 games) for the New York Giants in 2003 and '04.

As it stands, Wells and Whitticker are the two starters for the Packers at guard, but will get a lot of competition this off-season. lists a handful of guards that are scheduled for free agency, beginning March 3:

Chicago's Terrence Metcalf is an unrestricted free agent, who started the first 12 games of the regular season last year (13 overall). However the Bears recently re-signed Roberto Garza, who 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.

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.

Packer Report Top Stories