In the lead-up to free agency, we'll be looking at each Patriots free agent and projecting whether or not they will re-sign with the Patriots this offseason;
Position: Center / Guard
Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2011 Stats: 13 games played, 11 games started
Overview: Over the past two seasons, Dan Connolly has essentially played as a full time starter at all three interior line positions. During the first half of the 2010 season, Connolly started at left guard in place of Logan Mankins, who was holding out due to a contract dispute with the team. During the second half of the year, Connolly stepped in at right guard after guard Stephen Neal sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. In 2011, Connolly became the starter at center when Dan Koppen broke his leg in the season opener against Miami and missed the year. Clearly, it goes without saying: Dan Connolly is one of the most versatile players on the team (and I did not even mention the fact that Connolly has served a limited role as a goal line fullback in the past). That being said, Connolly is a free agent this year, and you have to wonder what lengths the Patriots will go to re-sign him. He's by no means an elite center, but he can definitely be an above average starter. With center Dan Koppen also a free agent, the Patriots have one of two options if they intend to bring Connolly back:
- Re-sign both Connolly and Koppen. Koppen serves as the starter at center while Connolly is the team's primary back-up at all three interior line positions (assuming Brian Waters doesn't retire).
- Re-sign just Dan Connolly, and let Koppen walk. Connolly steps in as the full-time starter at center for the immediate future, and the team could look to the draft to find a future replacement if they wish.
Given the reasons I've outlined above, I don't really see a scenario where the Patriots couldn't use Connolly. Assuming the team doesn't have to break the bank to get him back, I would expect him back on a multi-year deal, regardless of what happens with Koppen. And going back to the Koppen vs. Connolly debate, while I still believe Koppen is a slight upgrade at center, I see Connolly as the younger (29 vs. 32), slightly cheaper, and significantly more versatile option.
Prediction: Re-signs on a three year, $7 million deal