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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Beyond the Top Five
- Jeremy Bridges, Arizona Cardinals — Bridges held his own one-on-one against Jared Allen in 2009, but is overall a weak tackle and average guard. He's best suited for a sixth lineman job as someone that can play all across the line.
- Kynan Forney, Jacksonville Jaguars — Forney has bounced around the league a bit after starting for many years in Atlanta, and he'll probably continue to have a hard time keeping a job for as long as he continues to play.
- Mike Gandy, Arizona Cardinals — A recent starter at left tackle, Gandy is a mediocre talent who really projects better inside. He could serve as a versatile backup, but nothing more.
- Ben Hamilton, Denver Broncos — The product of a dying scheme, Hamilton is undersized and isn't likely to attract much attention on the open market. The rest of his career is likely to be at center.
- Artis Hicks, Minnesota Vikings — A starter with the Eagles for two seasons and one with Minnesota, Hicks has taken a backup role the last two years. He has experience at guard and tackle, but shouldn't be starting.
- Russ Hochstein, Denver Broncos — Hochstein provides value as a guard and center, but isn't starting material.
- Damion McIntosh, Seattle Seahawks — Overpaid by both the Dolphins and Chiefs, the league has finally figured out that McIntosh is a below-average starter no matter where he plays. He has experience all across the line, but is only good enough to be a backup.
- Kendall Simmons, New England Patriots — Once a quality starter with the Steelers, injuries have derailed Simmons' career and have sucked out most of his talent. The former mauler will likely continue to have trouble staying healthy, and thus, keeping a job.
- Barry Sims, San Francisco 49ers — A veteran at guard and tackle, Sims is best suited inside and can start in a pinch, although he's better suited for a reserve role at this stage in his career.
- Keydrick Vincent, Carolina Panthers — After sub-par seasons in Baltimore and Arizona following some solid play with the Steelers, Vincent has maintained a starting job with the Panthers over the past two seasons. Despite the highly productive running game the team has had for much of that time, Vincent himself is pretty average, and shouldn't be handed any starting job.
- Maurice Williams, Jacksonville Jaguars — Once a promising tackle for the Jaguars, Williams has moved inside due to lack of production and is overall a disappointment. He should come cheap and does have talent in there somewhere, but whether it will ever show itself is another story.
Who do you think are the best guards on the free agent market? Share your thoughts on the forum here !