FanPost

When everything’s on the Line

              Draft’s over, and the aging Offensive Line will look a lot younger in the next months. I am proud to tell you that I guessed one pick of the Patriots’ haul – well, I thought that if the Patriots selected a Tackle, Nate Solder would be the pick, and it would be in the middle of the 1st round. However, I was really surprised to see them select Marcus Cannon, that does not exactly fit that athletic freak, light in the pants mold that the BB loves for his offensive linemen. So that’s only a 50% hit, since two OL were selected in the 2011 draft. Do I need to throw my theory away, because it doesn’t explain all the picks? Do I need to try to explain why BB drafted that guy ? Well, maybe not, since BB is a lot smarter than I am, and the experts themselves usually don't know what BB is doing. But I'll try to do it anyway. It could be useful to look further down the road, and see what will happen with the OL.           

 

Is the Offensive Line going to be a force or a weakness in 2011 and 2012 ?

Let’s review the OL, position by position.

The Centers :

 

            That one is easy. The Patriots didn’t draft a center, and the starting center isn't a free agent. The situation remains unchanged.

Dan Koppen is aging, and sometimes gets goutmuscled by some mammoth on the Defensive Line. He is signed through 2011, and Ryan Wendell and Rich Ohrnberger are groomed to replace him, or more likely to be valuable backups. Dan Connoly can play all three interior offensive line spot, so he could take the reps while the Patriots draft another center.

I believe Koppen’s replacement is not on the roster right now, and that the Patriots will draft that guy in the 2012 draft (Mike Brewster ? Peter Konz ?)

 

The Offensive Tackles :

 

The next generation bookend tackles are in place. Vollmer could play either tackle but has gone to the Probowl as a sophomore at ORT. Bill Belichick also said that Solder was a LT in his collegiate career and will stay on the left side in the NFL. Solder betters every one of Vollmer's very impressive athletic credentials, except for raw strength. It’s important to note that he’s younger and closer to the Tight End days they both share, so we could expect it.

Mark Levoir has had occasional starts at both Left and Right tackle and is a more than acceptable OT reserve.

Nick Kaczur might be on his way out, since he didn’t agree to take a paycut earlier in the offseason. OTOH, he may be back because of his position versatility (we could plug him at guard if both Mankins and Light leave, and Marcus Cannon is not ready to claim the starting job).

The only question remaining seems to be : will the Patriots resign Light ?

Matt Light had a great career in New England, but some fans and analyst consider he is just an above average tackle. Comes in Nate Solder, with a huge upside. He is raw. But the Patriots selected him with the seventeenth overall pick. The Patriots expect a player drafted in the first round to be an immediate contributor, and Solder may have to start from day one. Solder may give the Patriots leverage in the contract negotiation concerning Matt Light, but I think the Patriots would be wise to offer him a contract. Light could be a valuable player in several situations.

 He brings experience and leadership, and would be a great mentor to groom Solder. Can Light be the franchise LT for another year ? He probably can, even if he may struggle in pass protection. Would Light sign with the Patriots to backup a rookie at left tackle ? That’s his call…

There’s an interesting option, though : Light might be able to play Guard. That would allow him to retire as a Patriot, and would provide a serviceable starter at a position where there is a lot of uncertainty. Nothing, from what I saw, proved me that he couldn’t play inside. But that’s a projection, obviously. He may beat Connoly and Cannon in training camp for the starting RG spot…

 

The Offensive Guards :

 

Dan Connoly was a revelation last year, at both guards positions (and as a kick returner !), and is a very valuable back-up who can play all three interior position. But the starters are unknown for now. Logan Mankins hasn’t signed his franchise tag yet – that may or may not exist under a new CBA. Neal has retired. That leaves us with Marcus Cannon, Rich Ohrnberger (who may play center), Ryan Wendell (ditto).

What can we expect of Marcus Cannon ?

People should realize that Cannon (when he's ready) will not be a typical Patriot OG. In another thread, I mentioned what I thought is necessary for an O-lineman to be successful in the Patriots’ offense, based on a few stats (30’’ vertical jump, 4.5 second short shuttles and 7.5 second 3-cone drills or better). Marcus Cannon stands at 6'5" and 353 lbs and doesn't match the usual very nimble but light in the pants OL-men the Pats have put out there for the past decade. He did have a 30.5’’ vertical jump, but a 4.97 second short shuttle and 8.07 second 3-cone drill.

 Cannon is pure road grader on the run and pure block of granite vs the pass. I doubt you will see him getting out on the edge in bubble screens or leading runs to the other side. I think this change is due in part to the change BB is seeing in league. More and more defenses are attacking the pass with a big push up the middle. This may be BB's first move to adjust to that reality, by bringing in a more immovable type of player in the middle, he solves that issue, but giving up some of that nimbleness. It’s the right trade off IMHO. You could argue that a borderline 1st round talent dropping in the 5th round is too much value to pass on, but the real question is "how do I use this talent ?" Kurt Warner said on NFL network last year that BB allowed the players to play with their strengths, rather than telling them to fit the scheme. He builds around players forces. Cannon may be able to become a starter, so that would be a good way to use him.

Cannon was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma shortly before the draft, and that may be a risk, but even if he can’t play early in the year, I think he may be a starter at one of the guards position late in 2011 or in 2012.

Mankins’ future with the Patriots (2011 and later)

Mankins wants a new contract. And he wants to be paid. A lot. You all know that, and I don’t think you need me to tell you the whole story – again. You may think that his on-field actions don’t worth the price he’s asking. I don’t. I’d love to see Mankins suit up in the Patriots’ uniform. But (and this is pure speculation here), if we were to offer Mankins the contract he wants, will he agree to stay a Patriot ? We can’t assume that every player wants to retire here, and another team may be a sexier choice.

 If you look at the Evans money he's looking for, then consider that the cap could possibly shrink 10% since the patriots' previous offer, you have to wonder what Mankins will end up being able to get from the pats if they offer him a longer term deal, or even what he could get from other teams.

Why 2012 might not exactly be a perfect year to be on the free agency market :

The 2010 season was uncapped, and the 2011 might be too, as a transition year under a new CBA. I think that the 2012 season will be capped, though. The last offer from the owners to the NFLPA set the 2011 cap as $114 million. The 2009 cap, the last one, was $128M.

I don't know how the owners propose to deal with teams significantly over cap, if it ended up at 114 million, but I suppose they could just hard cap it. It would be tough on the FA market, and some players would be cut, but I doubt there are many teams that couldn't get under that if they wanted to.

And, since some owners have to cut players in order to get in the cap, they can’t afford to pick up another big contract. The other owners (that don’t need to cut players) are probably the ones that don’t make a splash in free agency and offer a big contract to a guard. As a result, a new salary cap may reduce the amount of money that Mankins can get as a free agent… and he might agree to sign with the Patriots.

If Mankins still wants to play (for the right price) in a Patriot uniform :

Logan Mankins can become the "old man" and leader of the next generation Patriots’ Offensive line.

Food for thought : the Patriots don’t resign Matt Light. They may use the money saved that way to sign Mankins long term (I would recommend a contract without a lot of guaranteed money in the last two years of Mankins’ contract. It would be easier to negotiate a new contract with Vollmer and/or Solder, depending on the length of the latter’s contract).

 

Do I believe Mankins will sign a long-term deal with the Patriots? Well… I don’t. I think Mankins will play his franchise tag in the 2011 season (or will be traded for picks) and will become a free agent.

 

A possible scenario concerning the Patriots’ O-Line :

 

For the purpose of the following scenario, I’ll assume that 1) Mankins will only play his franchise year before leaving through free agency 2) Matt Light will be signed to a 2-year deal and will play guard 3) Marcus Cannon will be able to start someday down the road 4) Dan Koppen is resigned to a 1- or 2-year deal in the 2012 offseason.

 

 

2010 - 2011

LT

LG

C

RG

RT

Starters

Matt Light

Logan Mankins

Dan Koppen

Stephen Neal

Sebastian Vollmer

Backups

Mark Levoir

Ryan Wendell

Rich Ohrnberger

Dan Connoly

Nick Kaczur

 

Steve Maneri

 

 

 

Quinn Ojinnaka

 

2011 (week 1)

LT

LG

C

RG

RT

Starters

Matt Light

Logan Mankins

Dan Koppen

Nick Kaczur

Sebastian Vollmer

Backups

Nate Solder

Dan Connoly

Rich Ohrnberger

Marcus Cannon

Steve Maneri

 

Mark Levoir

 

Ryan Wendell

 


 

2011-2012 (end of the year)

LT

LG

C

RG

RT

Starters

Nate Solder

Logan Mankins

Dan Koppen

Matt Light

Sebastian Vollmer

Backups

Mark Levoir

Ryan Wendell

Dan Connoly

Marcus Cannon

Nick Kaczur

 

Steve Maneri

 

Rich Ohrnberger

 

 

 

2012 - 2013

LT

LG

C

RG

RT

Starters

Nate Solder

Matt Light

Dan Koppen

Marcus Cannon

Sebastian Vollmer

Backups

Mark Levoir

Rookie OG

Rookie C

Dan Connoly

Steve Maneri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan Wendell, Rich Ohrnberger, Steve Maneri, Quinn Ojinnaka or Mark Levoir could all be cut to make way for a bunch of rookies, depending of their development in 2011. I'm thinking one of those 1st or 2nd rounder will net us a talent like Mike Brewster or Peter Konz in 2012. I can see Dan Koppen brought back if a rookie center is not ready to step in from day 1. I believe that Kackzur will be cut sooner rather than later and Maneri can be a serviceable backup.

 

Is Solder ready to start from day 1 ? Can Light move inside to Guard ? Is Mankins going to stick around five more years ? Which backups are worthy of a roster spot ? I’d love to hear your take on these questions.

The views expressed in these FanPosts are not necessarily those of the writers or SBNation.

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