NFL free agent preview: The OL

Like most positions, it's slim pickings for offensive linemen, through there are three top centers: Jason Brown, Matt Birk and Jeff Saturday.

Packer Report continues its position-by-position preview of free agency with the offensive line. The deadline to name franchise players was Feb. 19, and free agency begins on Friday.

The Packers' needs:

Do the Green Bay Packers need an offensive lineman? No. Would it be nice to get a starting-caliber tackle or a bulldog for the interior line? Yes.

But are there many of those players available in free agency?

It's pretty slim pickings at tackle, where Mark Tauscher is a free agent and coming off of a torn ACL and Chad Clifton had both knees scoped. Carolina signed All-Pro left tackle Jordan Gross last week, Pittsburgh put the franchise tag on left tackle Max Starks and Miami gave an outlandish contract to right tackle Vernon Carey. Just like that, the three best tackles on the market were gone.

At center, Baltimore's Jason Brown is one of the best in the business. The Ravens likely won't re-sign him as they try to keep their defense intact. He's arguably one of the top five players available overall, and he's going to get the key to the vault. There is some veteran talent available for teams needing a guy for a year or two.

At guard, forget about it. There's no young talent available, so if the Packers want an upgrade here, they'll have to look to the draft.

Big-ticket items:

— Tackle: None.

— Guard: None.

— Center: The Ravens' Jason Brown spent his first three seasons at guard, including starting the final 28 games during that span, before shifting center in 2008. That versatility is great for Brown, because a top guard generally can fetch an extra $2 million over a top center.

Pricey, but a good deal:

— Tackle: Cincinnati's Stacy Andrews, like Tauscher, is coming off of a torn ACL. Difference is, Andrews is only 27. He played well at right tackle the last two seasons and has experience at guard, too. At 342 pounds, Andrews doesn't fit the mold of a Packers lineman. ... Atlanta's Tyson Clabo, a 332-pounder, is a restricted free agent who played well in 11 starts at right tackle. He was given the second-round tender by the Falcons. Pittsburgh right tackle Willie Colon, who has started 32 games the last two seasons, also is a restricted free agent. He might be destined to play left guard. Another restricted free agent is Tampa Bay's William Penn. The Bucs just gave him the first- and third-round tender, and with them about $60 million under the cap after Wednesday's purging, he's likely in line for a long-term deal.

— Guard: The Saints' athletic Jahri Evans has started all 48 games of his career, and is a big reason why the Saints allowed only 13 sacks last season. He was given the highest tender, meaning a team would have to relinquish first- and third-round draft picks. ... Pittsburgh's Chris Kemoeatu filled in nicely for the departed Alan Faneca. He's a decent player, and at only 26, the 344-pounder has time to get better. ... The Falcons' Harvey Dahl, like Evans, is a restricted free agent. He's a hard-nosed run blocker.

— Center: There are two solid veterans available in Minnesota's Matt Birk and the Colts' Jeff Saturday. Birk just completed his 11th season and was a Pro Bowler from 2000 through 2007. Apparently, he and coach Brad Childress butt heads, and Birk likely won't be back, though both sides are talking. Saturday and Peyton Manning have been a brilliant intellectual tag team in Indy for the last 10 seasons. Like Birk, he's tough and intelligent and would be a great short-term answer for a team that thinks it's a contender.

Bargain shopping:

— Tackle: The Eagles' veteran duo of Jon Runyan (right, 11 years) and Tra Thomas (left, 13) are available. Runyan, a tough guy with 192 consecutive starts, says he'd like to stay in Philly, as does Thomas, though the Eagles might not be able to keep both. ... The Saints' Jon Stinchcomb played well in protecting Drew Brees last season. ... Pittsburgh's Marvel Smith played just five games last season and has needed back surgery after the last two seasons. ... Jacksonville's Kahlif Barnes, a former second-round pick, hasn't developed. He's a decent pass blocker but poor in the run game.

— Guard: The Chargers' Mike Goff is starting to slip after 11 years in the league. He's tough and feisty, and started 106 consecutive games. ... Ditto for Washington's Pete Kendall, who will be 36 when training camp begins. He started strong but age was a factor in his declining play. ... Oakland's Cooper Carlisle just completed his ninth season and, like Goff, is starting to slip. He's got zone-blocking experience, though. ... One young guy in this group is the Eagles' 350-pound Nick Cole, a restricted free agent. They went 5-2 with him as a starter.

— Center: Oakland's Jake Grove, 29, is more of a finesse blocker than a power blocker. Tom Cable, the Raiders' former line coach, is now the head coach, so Grove would prefer to stay. ... The Jaguars are expected to let Brad Meester walk. Meester, a high school teammate of Aaron Kampman, once started 92 consecutive games but has missed 11 the last two seasons. ... Carolina's Geoff Hangartner, a valuable reserve, might attract an offer to start. He can play center and guard.

Clearance rack:

— Tackle: The Rams' Adam Goldberg started seven games at four positions ... George Foster lost the starting job in Detroit. ... Seattle's Ray Willis, 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds, could attract some interest because he did OK when pressed into action by injuries.

— Guard: Injuries have caught up to the Jaguars' Chris Naeole, who just completed his 12th season ... Seattle's Floyd Womack never has been able to hold down a starting job. ... San Diego's Kynan Forney was a starter for Atlanta for seven seasons and is a good run blocker.

— Center: The Chargers' Jeremy Newberry is a long way from his Pro Bowl days. ... The Bengals' Eric Ghiaciuc was part of a line that allowed 51 sacks. ... The Bills' Melvin Fowler and Duke Preston have starting experience, but neither have excelled.

Editor's note:

For a preview of the quarterbacks, click here

For a preview of the running backs, click here

For a preview of the fullbacks, click here

For a preview of the tight ends, click here

For a preview of the wide receivers, click here

For a preview of the offensive line, click here

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.


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