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2012 NFL free agency primer: the offensive linemen

The Ravens would like to improve their offensive line during the offseason, but the best move they could make in free agency would be re-signing Ben Grubbs, who could soon be one of the top guards available. The Ravens recently said that they have already offered big money to Grubbs -- and there’s no reason not to believe that claim -- but if Grubbs, who turns 28 this month, hits the open market, he could be gone for good.

Grubbs is widely viewed as one of the top two or three offensive guards in the 2012 free agent class, which includes Carl Nicks of the New Orleans Saints and Evan Mathis of the Philadelphia Eagles. Guard is one of the strongest positions in free agency this year, but there are few notable left tackles and centers out there.

One of the most intriguing tackle options is former Ravens left tackle Jared Gaither. Gaither, who last played for the Ravens in 2010, was waived by the Kansas City Chiefs last season. He was claimed by the San Diego Chargers, who plugged him in at left tackle right away, and he played pretty well down the stretch. There is no question he has the size and skill to be a solid starter if he wants to, so he should have suitors in free agency.

Other tackle options include Demetrius Bell of the Buffalo Bills and Kareem McKenzie of the New York Giants.

The Ravens need a long-term answer at left tackle, and that’s clearly not Bryant McKinnie. Maybe it’s Michael Oher -- who was moved to right tackle in 2011 -- after all. Or maybe they will seek a tackle in the draft. It seems unlikely they will find that player in free agency.

They could, however, be in the market for a center depending on what the team decides to do with veteran Matt Birk. Birk doesn’t plan to retire, but he is a free agent and his return to the Ravens in 2012 is not a sure thing. However that situation plays out, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said last month that the Ravens will add another center. It would make sense if the Ravens drafted a center in April, but if they do go the free-agent route, Chris Myers of the Houston Texans and Scott Wells of the Green Bay Packers are the top centers.

Here is a look at the top free agent offensive linemen on the market and where they could wind up in 2012.

Tackles

1. Jared Gaither: Gaither had an interesting run with the Ravens, but he flashed Pro Bowl potential at times in Baltimore. With no marquee tackles on the market, he stands to cash in after his strong finish in San Diego.

Potential suitors: San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings.

2. Demetrius Bell: The Buffalo Bills started the season 3-1, then Bell got injured and the team slumped. Coincidence? Who knows. But Bell, a young player with upside, is becoming a free agent at a good time.

Potential suitors: Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals.

3. Kareem McKenzie: McKenzie won two Super Bowl titles with the New York Giants, but with his increasing age and New York’s salary cap status, the Giants will likely go in another direction at right tackle this spring.

Potential suitors: Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins.

Other notable free agents (2011 team in parenthesis): Jeff Backus (Detroit Lions), Vernon Carey (Miami Dolphins), Anthony Collins (Cincinnati Bengals), Barry Richardson (Kansas City Chiefs), Max Starks (Pittsburgh Steelers).

Guards

1. Carl Nicks: The New Orleans Saints were forced to use the franchise tag on quarterback Drew Brees and keeping him will be their primary focus leading up to free agency. That could open the door for Nicks to sign elsewhere.

Potential suitors: Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins, Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints.

2. Ben Grubbs: Will he stay or will he go? Grubbs could be the domino that decides how the Ravens proceed in free agency and in the draft. If Grubbs re-signs, the Ravens can focus on left tackle and center in the draft.

Potential suitors: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins, Tennessee Titans.

3. Evan Mathis: Mathis, 30, had a lot of success with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011 and might opt to stick around. If not, he is a decent fallback option for the teams who miss out on the top guards -- Nicks and Grubbs.

Potential suitors: Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers.

Other notable free agents (2011 team in parenthesis): Chris Kemoeatu (Pittsburgh Steelers), Deuce Lutui (Arizona Cardinals), Jake Scott (Tennessee Titans), Bobbie Williams (Cincinnati Bengals), Jake Scott (Tennessee Titans), Mike Brisiel (Houston Texans), Jeremy Zuttah (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

Centers

1. Chris Myers: If the Ravens were to splurge on a center in free agency, Myers might be the guy. He thrived in the Houston Texans’ zone-blocking scheme, which is similar to the one the Ravens started to use in 2011.

Potential suitors: Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts.

2. Scott Wells: The Packers are reportedly working to keep the 31-year-old, but right now he is unsigned.

Potential suitors: Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans (if Myers leaves), Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals.

3. Samson Satele: The cash-strapped Oakland Raiders probably won’t be able to re-sign Satele before the start of free agency -- if at all. Teams looking to add physicality to their running games should give him a call.

Potential suitors: Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs.

Other notable free agents (2011 team in parenthesis): Matt Birk and Andre Gurode (Baltimore Ravens), Jeff Saturday (Indianapolis Colts), Casey Wiegmann (Kansas City Chiefs), Dan Connolly (New England Patriots).

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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