Free agency preview: Center

Packers not likely to re-sign Flanagan

It appears that the Green Bay Packers are poised to make a change at center this season. Veteran Mike Flanagan is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Unless he re-signs with the Packers for near the veteran's minimum, Green Bay probably will opt to go with a younger center. Scott Wells, who started the last eight games last season at left guard, is more comfortable at center since that is where he played during his collegiate career at Tennessee. The Packers also are high on Chris White, who made the team as a free agent last year, and Junius Coston, one of Green Bay's fifth round selections in last year's NFL draft. Coston practiced mainly at guard last year, but also can play center. He suited up for two games last year. He played the final three plays at left tackle in a blowout win over the Saints and did not play the following week.

Flanagan, 32, played in pain, but started 14 of 16 games after rushing back from surgery for a sports hernia in early October. His time might be up in Green Bay after a remarkable 10-year run that began when he spent the first two seasons on injured reserve. lists the centers that are scheduled for free agency in March:

• New Orleans Saints C LeCharles Bentley, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, is a solid player and was selected to the NFC Pro Bowl squad. He's the No. 1 rated free agent at the position and fourth overall on the market.

• Carolina Panthers C Jeff Mitchell and RG Tutan Reyes are both unrestricted free agents. Don't expect the team to go out of its way to sign either. 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.

• Denver Broncos C Tom Nalen is expected to void his contract and become a free agent this off-season. He wants to come back to Denver but it doesn't look like that will happen. Nalen is 34 years old and the Broncos already have his successor at center. He could end up in another uniform next season. He is a five-time Pro Bowler but he didn't know what to expect on the open market. Retirement isn't at option at this point.

• Minnesota Vikings C Melvin Fowler replaced injured starter Matt Birk, but Birk is expected to return in 2006, meaning Fowler's days in Minnesota are most likely finished. He will be a free agent and is expected to look for a starting job.

• Buffalo Bills C Trey Teague, an eight-year veteran and unrestricted free agent, has been a steady if not spectacular performer for five seasons in Buffalo but he's likely to be replaced by rookie Duke Preston, who played in all 16 games.

• Miami Dolphins C Seth McKinney will likely be allowed to leave via free agency.

• Tennessee Titans C Justin Hartwig is a notch better than solid. But the center is heading for free agency and is represented by Drew Rosenhaus.

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