Free Agent primer: Interior offensive line

Free Agent primer: Interior offensive line
May 19, 2011, 3:48 pm
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By Tom E. Curran

This is the fourth in a series of looks at the Patriots' position-by-position needs after the draft, and who's available to fill them via free agency . . . whenever free agency might come. Today's position: Offensive guardcenter.
Who's here?
Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Nick Kaczur, Dan Koppen, Ryan Wendell, Rich Ohrnberger, Thomas Austin, Marcus Cannon.Who's out there?
Robert Gallery (G - Raiders), Rudy Niswanger (C - Chiefs), Scott Mruczkowski (C - Chargers), Davin Joseph (G - Buccaneers), David Baas (GC - 49ers)What's the need?
From 1-10? Let's call it a6. Stephen Neal has retired, which leaves your presumptive starters across the front as Mankins, Koppen and Connolly. Mankins may be agitated with how he's being treated, but it's hard to fathom him forfeiting 10 million to play left guard for the Patriots in 2011, which he'll get as their franchise player (presuming the CBA gets worked out, blah, blah, blah). Not after receiving about 800,000 in salary as opposed to the 3 million he would have gotten if he'd signed his RFA tender and played the whole season. But plans need to be made for his exit after 2011. Koppen will be 32 in September. He is not dominant but he's the interior QB of a line that is exceedingly smart and efficient. The Patriots will miss him a lot when he's gone and that day is coming. His backup is Ryan Wendell, 25, a versatile player who has been capable in fill-in duty at guard and spot duty at center. Connolly is a pretty effective right guard and has the versatility to play the other side as well, as he showed during Mankins' holdout. Ohrnberger has done little to emerge in an area that's had opportunities for players to step up. Kaczur is in the mix as guard depth. Cannon, drafred in the fifth round and currently battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, figures to be out of the mix in 2011. His potential, after he hopefully conquers his health problem, is very high. Who do they chase?
Baas seems a smart choice because he has that guard-center versatility. Meanwhile, I've been hearing the team remains enamored with one-time can't-miss prospect Robert Gallery, who is now 32 and has been plagued by injuries in Oakland. Who do we look at next?
Defensive endsTom E. Curran can be reached at Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran