Free-agent fit: Offensive line

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
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Fourth in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 13.

Position: Offensive line

[+] EnlargeDan Koppen
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliBased on Tom Brady's comments, it safe to assume he hopes the Patriots re-sign center Dan Koppen.
Players under contract for 2012: T/G Marcus Cannon, T Kyle Hix, T Matt Kopa, T Matt Light, G Logan Mankins, C/G Nick McDonald, T Nate Solder, G Donald Thomas, T Sebastian Vollmer, G Brian Waters, C/G Ryan Wendell

Level of need: Moderate

Projected top targets: Dan Connolly (Patriots), Russ Hochstein (Broncos), Dan Koppen (Patriots)

Why Connolly fits: The Patriots know what they have in the 29-year-old Connolly, who has started 24 regular-season games over the last two campaigns. He's bailed them out at center and guard, and line coach Dante Scarnecchia raved about his athleticism at the Super Bowl.

Why Hochstein fits: For the level of contract the Patriots are probably looking to spend to add depth, the 34-year-old Hochstein could fit the bill as a minimum-salary depth option who competes for a spot in training camp and provides insurance at center and guard, where there are some questions. He knows the system.

Why Koppen fits: Tom Brady once said it best when it comes to Koppen, who has been the Patriots' starting center since 2003: "There's only one other butt on this planet I like: Koppen's and my wife's." What else needs to be said?

Other names of note: T Jeff Backus (Lions), G Jacob Bell (Rams), G Mackenzy Bernadeau (Panthers), G/T Vernon Carey (Dolphins), T Adam Goldberg (Rams), G Ben Grubbs (Ravens), C/G Geoff Hangartner (Panthers), C Nick Hardwick (Chargers), C Chris Myers G Carl Nicks (Saints), C Jeff Saturday (Colts), G Jake Scott (Titans), G/T Adam Snyder (49ers), C Scott Wells (Packers)

Market conditions: Interest to note that of the 21 players assigned the franchise tag, there wasn't one offensive lineman. One might think that would mean more quality on the open market, but most teams have locked up their top blockers already. Meanwhile, the center class in the draft is considered light, while the guard crop is strong. That could create some competition in free agency for snappers, and there are quite a few of them set to hit the market.

Questions to answer at position: Where does Matt Light, who is considering retirement, fit into the plans? ... Does veteran guard Brian Waters, who said after the Super Bowl that he'd think about retirement, have those thoughts resurface when it gets closer to training camp? ... Who's starting at center? ... What is the better fit for Marcus Cannon -- right guard or right tackle?

YOUR TURN: Which of these would you like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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