Thursday NFL Combine Musings: FA guards, centers will be in demand

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INDIANAPOLIS -- This might be a really good year to be a free-agent guard or center, and I am not just talking about the elite at those positions either.

In chatting with scouts, coaches and general managers, it's looking like a lot of teams want to get better inside on their offensive line.

The word being thrown around: Tougher.

This could be an offshoot of Seattle winning the Super Bowl with a physical run game and a dominant defensive front. For years, the idea was to pay the tackles outside and just fill in with guards inside. But the value of the inside players has increased with the versatility of defensive fronts.

The guards have to be physical enough to move power players in the run game, yet be skilled enough to handle the speed rushers who move inside on passing downs. It's not easy.

"That's going to be a good market," said one NFC coach. "There are so many teams who have to get better in the middle of their line."

Cleveland's Alex Mack is the elite of the centers available, and if he hits the market he will command a huge deal. But the feeling is that the Browns will likely tag him or re-sign him.

That would leave a group of centers headlined by Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith, San Francisco's Jonathan Goodwin, New England's Ryan Wendell and Brian De La Puenta of the Saints.

As for the guards, there are no real star players at the spot. But there are a lot of quality young players who could be ready to do more. Kansas City has two guards that fit that in Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz. Other guards in the mix are Denver's Zane Beadles and Minnesota's Charlie Johnson.

I wouldn't expect huge deals for those guys, but with so many teams needing help inside they might get overpaid.

I am hearing rumblings that the Panthers might be willing to let defensive end Greg Hardy walk. He is set to be an unrestricted free agent, and would be one of the top players on the market, if he does become available. The Panthers have cap issues and might not be willing to put the franchise tag on him. If that's the case, look for Tampa Bay and Atlanta, two division rivals of the Panthers, to get into the mix.  Hardy would bring an immediate edge presence to any team that would sign him. 

"Basically right now we’re talking to agents," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said. "He’s part of the puzzle. We’re cap-challenged." Getttleman said the team is considering the franchise tag, but I can't see that happening with their cap situation.

The word out of Seattle is the Seahawks might put a second-round tender on restricted free agent Doug Baldwin. They want to protect the potential of losing him with Golden Tate being a unrestricted free agent, who is free to sign with anyone. 

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is one of the best in the league. When he talks, I listen. And he loves this year's draft class. "This is the best draft -- I’ve been doing this for 30 years." There are many personnel men and coaches around the league echoing those sentiments. This could be a good year to trade down and add picks.

Is Chris Johnson coming back to the Titans? Or will he be let go? I would think he would be on his way out with a cap number of $10 million. New coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked if he were optimistic Johnson would be back. "Am I optimistic that he’ll remain on the team? Well, it’s a process that you go through with everybody on the team," Whisenhunt said. "This is a part of it, the draft, the combine, and then free agency. Putting together the team is not an exact science. We’re under no deadline to do it. We still have a lot of things that we have to evaluate going forward. Chemistry is a big piece of it. We haven’t even spent any time with our team yet. Like I said, there’s no rush to make a decision."

It was good to see Patriots coach Bill Belichick coming to meet the media. That's a rarity here, folks. He seemed relaxed, too. And that's also a rarity.

When the Cardinals signed linebacker Karlos Dansby to a one-year deal last year, they thought they'd be getting a solid player. He far exceeded that. Dansby is a free agent, and could be set to cash in big. The Cardinals want him back. "He's a big priority," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "Karlos is a guy we'd like to have back. He's a great leader. He's a good football player. Hopefully, we can get something done but you have to be prepared to move on, from any player. That's why we drafted Kevin Minter in the second round last year."

I love Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He has star potential. Some teams have compared him to Rob Gronkowski. That's high praise. He measured in at 6-5, 262 pounds. He looks like a tackle and runs well. That's a nice combination. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

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