- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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With free agency to begin March 11, and the draft from May 8-10, one thing NFL teams generally do at this time is marry the two to better assess the best approach to filling potential needs.
For example, if a team knows it’s a deep draft for top-quality offensive tackles (2014 is such), it might be less inclined to be as aggressive at that position in free agency. With this in mind, our plan is to look at each position in the coming days through a similar lens.
We’ll lead off with center/guard.
Draft: When Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell was asked what might be easier to accomplish between adding a spark to the running game or finding an impact pass-rusher, he chose the running game because of the ability to find good value/production along the offensive line in the middle rounds. Unlike last year with center Travis Frederick (31st overall pick), and guards Jonathan Cooper (No. 7), Chance Warmack (No. 10), and Kyle Long (No. 20), this year is shaping up as one in which the first pure interior offensive lineman might not be selected until the second round. Southern Cal's Marcus Martin and North Carolina's Russell Bodine are two of the top interior offensive linemen in the draft.
Free agency: The contract that former New England Patriots guard Donald Thomas landed from the Colts last offseason (four years, $14 million) provides some framework of a marketplace for a free agent pursued early in the process. Browns center Alex Mack and Broncos guard Zane Beadles look like the crown jewels, and they won’t come that cheap if they ultimately make it to the open market. Chiefs guard Jon Asamoah enters his fifth season, and fits the still-young-and-entering-his-prime profile that could lead to a nice payday. The view from here is that there are some quality high-level options in free agency and then a notable drop-off.
Patriots perspective: Starting center Ryan Wendell is a free agent, and starting right guard Dan Connolly is due a $3 million base salary and will count $4 million against the cap, which could be viewed as too rich for the Patriots’ liking. As colleague Field Yates noted, the Patriots have a high total of $16 million of their cap currently tied up along the interior of the offensive line, which probably tilts the odds in favor of the team looking at low- to moderate-cost options unless that financial picture changes. There are also developmental prospects like guard Chris Barker and practice squad center Braxston Cave who could figure into the plans.