Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe has provided Patriots fans with some updates on the team's offensive linesituation:
Despite talking about retiring, right guard Brian Waters is expected to be back for another season. According to multiple NFL sources, the Patriots are prepared to move on without left tackle Matt Light and center Dan Koppen. The hope is to get Dan Connolly, who is an unrestricted free agent, under contract before free agency.
This is all very intriguing. So lets break it down into three parts:
1. Brian Waters Expected Back
This isn't the least bit surprising to me. Talking to Waters following Super Bowl XLVI, I didn't suspect that Waters was ready to hang 'em up. Waters played at an elite level in 2011, and was without a doubt, the Patriots' top lineman. He signed a two year contract with the team before the season started, and as Bedard has reported, I fully expect him to be back in the right guard spot in 2012. That doesn't mean the team can't look for Waters eventual replacement via the draft - I think the team could and should, unless they think Marcus Cannon can fill the right guard role. Nonetheless, this is great news from a Patriots perspective. Even though Brian Waters is 35, he's one of the very best guards in the game today.
2. Patriots Prepared to Move on From Light, Koppen
Again, this doesn't exactly surprise me. Last week, Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald reported that he heard Light was thinking about retiring, and the front-loaded contract he signed before the 2011 season was an indication of that. Personally, I think the Patriots could really use Light back. Surprisingly, Nate Solder seemed to be a great fit at right tackle for the Patriots, and could still use some development on the left side. Meanwhile, I've also got to wonder how much faith the Patriots have in Sebastian Vollmer's back - the Houston product missed ten games last year. Bedard himself goes on to say that the ideal situation would be to have all three tackles back. It's hard to disagree, Matt Light had a strong 2011 campaign.
The fact that the team is prepared to move on from Dan Koppen also would be hard to classify as a "surprise." Koppen has been solid, but far from great the last couple of years. He's only played in one game since January 2010, and he broke his leg in that game. He's struggled against some bigger defensive tackles in recent years, and the Patriots could be looking to go young at the center position.
With both of these guys, it's important to note Bedard's wording: the Patriots are "prepared" to move on without either of them. That doesn't mean one of both of them can't or won't be back. Nonetheless, Patriots fans should be preparing for a changing of the guard along the offensive line this offseason.
3. Patriots Want Connolly Back
Dan Connolly represents a younger (29) and likely cheaper (or similarly priced) option to Dan Koppen. He also adds versatility, with the ability to play all three interior line positions. Therefore, it comes as no shock that the Patriots would like to see him return to the club in 2012. I think that the Patriots should consider signing or drafting an upgrade at the center position. In fact, the 2012 draft class is pretty loaded at that position. However, this shouldn't be a deterrent to signing Dan Connolly to a new deal. Connolly doesn't have a defined position, and could fill in on an as-needed basis anywhere along the interior offensive line. Say the Patriots were to draft a Peter Konz (Wisconsin), Michael Brewster (Ohio State), or Ben Jones (Georgia) in the draft - Connolly would still find playing time and spot starts regardless. Locking Connolly up to a multi-year contract would provide much needed insurance to the Patriots interior offensive line.