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Monday, February 22, 2010

Stephen Neal is the number one rated free agent guard





By Chris J. Nelson

February 20, 2010

This article immediately follows my free agent offensive tackles piece, which needless to say was a pretty pathetic list in terms of talent.

Unlike offensive tackle, however, interior linemen are much easier to find because they don't require quite the same blend of size, strength, and athleticism.

That being the case, the guard market will typically feature more overall talent than the tackle market, and things are no different in 2010.

These are my top five free agent guards in 2010:

Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks.)

1. Stephen Neal, New England Patriots

Neal has flown under the radar for much of his career in New England playing alongside some great talents and bigger names, but he's held his own as a former college wrestler and undrafted free agent.

At 33, Neal won't be a long-term starter, but he still plays at a high level and can certainly be an upgrade for a lot of teams inside.

2. Bobbie Williams, Cincinnati Bengals

A 10-year NFL veteran, Williams has started every game except three since the beginning of the 2004 season and is still highly productive.

Part of a surprisingly effective Bengals offensive line in 2009, Williams has plenty of experience and great bulk for the position, making him one of the best short-term starters on the market at age 33.

3. Chester Pitts, Houston Texans

One of the original Texans, Pitts started the first 114 games of his career until a knee injury ended his season two games into 2009.

Pitts hasn't always been consistent and has been part of some pretty bad offensive lines during Houston's early years, but he has lots of experience at guard and tackle and is still fairly young at 30.

4. Rex Hadnot, Cleveland Browns

A knee injury disrupted most of his 2009 season, but Hadnot has been an above-average interior lineman for most of his career since being drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2004.

A versatile lineman who can start at both guard spots and center, Hadnot is still just 28 and could be a potential inexpensive find on the free agent market.

5. Tony Pashos, San Francisco 49ers

Pashos has actually seen starting time at tackle in recent years, but he's over-matched at the position and really doesn't have any business starting outside.

He does make for a strong backup lineman, however, with experience at guard and tackle and the ability to be a serviceable fill-in on the inside.

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