Free-agent preview: Offensive guard

Guards aren’t always a top priority in free agency, but there are some very solid prospects available this year.

Offensive tackle, especially left tackles, are usually driving the high prices among offensive linemen in free agency. This year, however, some of the best offensive linemen scheduled to hit the open market reside at guard.

KELECHI OSEMELE, BALTIMORE

The Baltimore Ravens didn’t push the franchise tag on Kelechi Osemele, in part because the franchise tag for offensive linemen is largely based on the prior salaries of offensive tackles, which would have cost the Ravens’ $13.7 million. Instead, Osemele is reportedly looking for a contract in the range of $10 million per season. Last year, Osemele filled in admirably for Eugene Monroe at left tackle and there is a possibility he could remain at left tackle if he stays in Baltimore. No matter if it is guard or tackle, he proved he has versatility and therefore immense value if he hits the open market.

RICHIE INCOGNITO, BUFFALO

Outside of football, Richie Incognito is best known for the mess in Miami that was largely centered on him and a few other teammates harassing Jonathan Martin. On the gridiron, however, Incognito is regarded as a tough guard. After 11 years in the league and turning 33 in July, he should still have a few good years left in him, and he’s played in 15 or more games in four of the last five years.

EVAN MATHIS, BRONCOS

After his release from the Philadelphia Eagles last year, Evan Mathis made the wise choice in free agency, signing a one-year deal with the Denver Broncos and going on to win the Super Bowl. Like Incognito, he has played in 15 or more games four of the past five seasons, but he also had ankle surgery in late February and will turn 35 during the season. He remained a very productive blocker last year, but will his age and recent surgery force him to sign another one-year deal?

ALEX BOONE, SAN FRANCISCO

Last year wasn’t his best, but Alex Boone has been a full-time starter at guard for the past four years and is one of the few top free-agent guards still in his 20s (he’ll turn 29 in May). However, a knee injury forced him onto injured reserve in December so he will have to pass the medical checks to sign a significant long-term deal.

RAMON FOSTER, PITTSBURGH

Ramon Foster has been a staple of the Pittsburgh Steelers line since 2009 and has been a full-time starter the last five years. He produced a very solid season in 2015 and will garner some interest on the free-agent market if he makes it there. The Steelers will surely make an attempt to keep him if they can.

With questions about some of the top-ranked guards in the draft, it will be interesting to see how much attention (and money) the guards in free agency draw.

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