With free agency set to begin March 5, ESPNBoston.com will look at the "free-agent fit" at each position over the next two weeks, while projecting possibilities for the Patriots. Today, it’s offensive linemen:
RATING THE NEED: Moderate
CURRENT PERSONNEL: T Matt Light, G Logan Mankins, C Dan Koppen, C/G Dan Connolly, T Nick Kaczur, T Sebastian Vollmer, T Mark LeVoir, C/G Rich Ohrnberger, G/T George Bussey, C/G Ryan Wendell
KEY CONSIDERATION: Starting right guard Stephen Neal is scheduled for unrestricted free agency and starting left guard Logan Mankins projects to be tendered at the first- or the first- and third-round level as a restricted free agent. Meanwhile, the team brought in competition for center Dan Koppen last year and could be thinking along those lines again. The Patriots have young interior linemen in Connolly, Ohrnberger, Wendell and Bussey, and the progress of their development will dictate how the Patriots rate their need at the interior spots. At left tackle, Matt Light enters the final year of his contract ($4.5 million), with promising 2009 second-round draft choice Sebastian Vollmer waiting in the wings. With Nick Kaczur and Mark LeVoir signed for multiple years, the need at tackle doesn’t seem as strong.
NOTABLE TARGETS ON MARKET: T Jammal Brown (Saints, restricted), G Jahri Evans (Saints, restricted), G Ben Hamilton (Broncos, unrestricted), C/G Russ Hochstein (Broncos, unrestricted), G Logan Mankins (Patriots, restricted), C Kevin Mawae (Titans, unrestricted), G Stephen Neal (Patriots, unrestricted), G Mashal Yanda (Ravens, restricted)
MOST LIKELY TARGETS FOR PATS: Logan Mankins, Stephen Neal
SLEEPER POSSIBILITY FOR PATS: Kevin Mawae
OUTLANDISH THOUGHT FOR PATS: LT Marcus McNeill (Chargers, restricted)
WRAP IT UP: If the Patriots make a free-agent move in this area, it would likely be at one of the interior spots. The only wrinkle that could change that is if management deems Matt Light’s salary ($4.5 million) too rich, but in an uncapped year, the possible urgency to make a move there would seem to be lessened.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?: Which of these offensive linemen would you most like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.