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Free agency primer: Ranking the top offensive linemen

Around the League's positional free-agent previews are ranked according to the players we would want -- not the players who will make the most money. We've covered top pass rushers, interior linemen, running backs, wide receivers, safeties, cornerbacks, linebackers, tight ends and the top-85 players overall. Now our series continues with available offensive linemen. We listed each player with the team they played for in 2012. Here goes:

Impact tackles in their prime

  1. Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots (T)
  2. Jake Long, Miami Dolphins (LT) (UPDATE: Long agreed to a four-year contract with the St. Louis Rams on Sunday night,'s Albert Breer reported)
  3. Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings (RT) (UPDATE: Re-signed with the Vikings.)
  4. Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals (RT)

Notes: While Long has been bashed for declining play the past two years, it's important to point out that he was battling injuries to his triceps, biceps, knee, back and shoulder. After receiving a a glowing endorsement by Dr. James Andrew this week, it's not unreasonable to believe Long can reclaim his status as one of the NFL's premier blindside protectors with his next team.

Though he's battled back issues since entering the league, Vollmer is one of the game's elite right tackles with the ability to play on the left side if necessary. He's a more complete player than Loadholt or Smith. ... One of the unsung heroes in Adrian Peterson's MVP season, Loadholt is a road-grading run blocker with improving pass protection skills entering his age-27 season. ... Smith is reportedly asking for $9 million per season, which will scare off teams that remember his early-career weight woes and injury concerns before picking up his play the past two years.

Elite guards and second-tier tackles

  1. Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills (G) (UPDATE: Agreed to terms with the Tennessee Titans)
  2. Louis Vasquez, San Diego Chargers (G) (UPDATE: Agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos)
    1. Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans Saints (LT) (UPDATE: Agreed to terms with the Chicago Bears)
    2. Sam Baker, Atlanta Falcons (LT) (UPDTAE: Re-signed with the Falcons.)
    3. Eric Winston, Kansas City Chiefs (RT)
    4. Gosder Cherilus, Detroit Lions (RT) (UPDATE: Agreed to terms with the Indianapolis Colts)
    5. Brandon Moore, New York Jets (G)
    6. Willie Colon, Pittsburgh Steelers (UPDATE: Colon agreed to a contract with the New York Jets)(G)

Notes: A zone-blocking specialist, Winston is already drawing interest from the Eagles and Dolphins on the heels of his recent release by the Chiefs. Don't rule out a reunion with the Texans, as right tackle was a trouble spot in 2012. ... Cherlius is coming off a career year, but has reportedly undergone a second knee procedure entering his age-29 season. ... Although Moore is still playing at a high level, he may be reaching the year-to-year stage of his career at age 33.

Stop gaps

  1. Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore Ravens (T)
    1. Winston Justice, Indianapolis Colts (T)
    2. Nate Garner, Miami Dolphins (G/T)
    3. Donald Thomas, New England Patriots (G) (UPDATE: Agreed to terms with the Indianapolis Colts)
    4. Matt Slauson, New York Jets (G)
    5. Ramon Foster, Pittsburgh Steelers (G)
    6. Max Starks, Pittsburgh Steelers (T)

Notes: McKinnie may have solidified the Ravens' offensive line during their Super Bowl run, but he remains a slightly below-average starter entering his age-34 season with a history of weight troubles. ... Justice is hardly a rock at right tackle, but he can stand in as a passable starter until a better option comes along. ... Garner is believed to be seeking a contract worth $3 million per year after proving capable of playing both guard and tackle. ... Thomas is expected to test the market after showing well as an injury replacement for Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly last season.

Slauson leaves a lot to be desired as a run blocker, but he won't get the quarterback killed. ... Heading toward a zone-blocking scheme, the Steelers are expected to move on from the hulking Foster, who has been similarly better in pass protection than pulling in the run game. ... Starks' play tailed off last season after returning from ACL surgery. As veteran insurance, could be of interest to former coordinator Bruce Arians, now running the show in Arizona.

Schein: Nine riskiest free agents


The money will start flying around when free agency starts Tuesday. Adam Schein provides teams with a list of guys to avoid. **More**

Borderline starters

  1. King Dunlap, Philadelphia Eagles (T) (UPDATE: Signed with the San Diego Chargers.)
    1. Stephen Peterman, Detroit Lions (G)
    2. Kevin Boothe, New York Giants (G/C)
    3. Leroy Harris, Tennessee Titans (G)
    4. Tyronne Green, San Diego Chargers (G)
    5. Chad Rinehart, Buffalo Bills (G)
    6. Jason Smith, New York Jets (T)
    7. Eben Britton, Jacksonville Jaguars (G/T)
    8. Barry Richardson, St. Louis Rams (T)
    9. Demetress Bell, Philadelphia Eagles (T)
    10. Geoff Schwartz, Minnesota Vikings (G)
    11. Brad Meester, Jacksonville Jaguars (C)
    12. Rob Turner, St. Louis Rams (G)
    13. Khalif Barnes, Oakland Raiders (T/G)
    14. Jammal Brown, Washington Redskins (T)
    15. Lance Louis, Chicago Bears (G)
    16. Jeff Otah, Carolina Panthers (T)

Notes: Dunlap and Reynolds have been incredibly inconsistent, but age is on their side. ... Peterman allowed too much interior pressure on Matthew Stafford in his age-30 season. ... Boothe offers versatility with experience at all three interior positions. ... Harris had a miserable time protecting Jake Locker after a solid 2011 season with Matt Hasselbeck under center. ... Rinehart and Lichtensteiger are best suited to zone-blocking schemes. ... Smith and Britton are reclamation projects as high draft picks who have struggled with injuries and poor performance. ... Richardson allowed more combined sacks and quarterback hits than any player on this list in 2012. ...

The Falcons are reportedly moving on from McClure, who had trouble in pass protection in his age-35 season. ... Before 2012, Bell's claim to fame was being Karl Malone's son. Now it's being a free-agent bust as Jason Peters' replacement in Philadelphia. ... Meester's play fell off the cliff at age 35 last season. ... Brown's career could be over at age 32 due to chronic hip issues. ... Louis is a subpar starter coming off a late-season ACL tear. ... There's been no news on Otah since last August when he was training at LeCharles Bentley's O-Line Academy in Cleveland, suggesting his comeback efforts have been aborted. Still just 26 years old, Otah's career has been derailed by knee and back injuries in addition to serious questions about his commitment to football.

Position overview

Even with Clady and Albert effectively out of the picture, it's an exceptionally deep year for offensive tackles. Throw in an equally deep draft class featuring three potential top-10 picks, and this is one of the best buyer's markets we've seen. The trio of Vollmer, Loadholt and Smith might not be finding a better offer than that of their hometown team.

Fortunately for teams in need, there are a pair of early first-round prospects in Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper. Center is essentially a wasteland. The top three players available will all be 35 years or older by the start of the 2013 season.

Teams with a need

Buffalo Bills: Levitre will have to be replaced on the interior.
New York Jets: Both starting guards could be lost to free agency.
New England Patriots: If Vollmer isn't brought back, right tackle must be addressed.
Baltimore Ravens: Will McKinnie be back in Baltimore? If not, is Jah Reid ready to start?
Cincinnati Bengals: Similar to the Pats, right tackle is a need if Andre Smith isn't re-signed.
Houston Texans: The entire right side of the line needs an overhaul.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts could use upgrades at every spot save left tackle.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags are in the market for at least a right tackle and a center to succeed Meester.

Harrison: Team needs in free agency

With free agency set to kick off at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12, Elliot Harrison identifies priorities for all 32 NFL teams. **More ...**

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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