With Patriots franchise left tackle Matt Light set to retire after a fantastic career, the team must shuffle the deck a little bit if they wish to protect quarterback Tom Brady for the upcoming season. Here's a breakdown of all of the players on the roster:
Out of these 13 players, which (likely) 10 players will make the team? Don't be surprised if the Patriots bring in another player in the draft or as an undrafted free agent- and don't be surprised if and when the Patriots bring in a lineman who is cut from another team.
With the retirement of Light, and the pending statuses of Koppen and Waters- health for Koppen, retirement for Waters- the Patriots will have to replenish their offensive line. Light is one of the top 5 linemen in Patriots history, Koppen is a top 5 center in the team's history, and Waters is one of the best guards of the past decade. Those are some pretty tough places to fill.
I believe that the retirement of Light forces Belichick and the Patriots to keep Koppen for another season as they try to balance youth with experienced Leadership. While Koppen and Connolly are fairly interchangeable at center, Connolly will now be free to fill whatever role is asked.
So how will the roster fill out?
Scenario I: Waters also retires.
If Waters retires, the Patriots will have a hole at right guard for the second straight season. After the under appreciated (by myself) Stephen Neal retired, the Patriots have been trying to fill the spot with someone who can protect Brady as the quarterback closes out his career. Unless the guard is a top prospect, I see the Patriots going in-house or with another veteran castaway.
T: Solder - Vollmer = Solder and Vollmer will be the book-ends of the offensive line.
T/G: Gallery - Cannon = Gallery will step up as the right guard and Cannon will have a full season under Dante Scarneccia to grow as a player.
G: Mankins - Thomas = Mankins will start at left guard and Thomas will provide depth.
G/C: Connolly - Wendell - McDonald = All three will provide depth on the offensive line.
C: Koppen = Koppen will take back the reigns of starting center.
PS: Kopa = Kopa has been a favorite on the practice squad, winning plenty of black jerseys.
The new starting line is Solder - Mankins - Koppen - Gallery - Vollmer. I'd be happy with that.
Scenario II: Koppen also steps down.
But what if Koppen is physically unable to play and the Patriots decide to move on? I wouldn't be surprised if Koppen was brought back specifically because the coaching staff knew Light was retiring and they wanted additional veteran leader after last season's center position was a turnstile?
The new starting line is Solder - Mankins - Connolly - Gallery - Vollmer, and look for the Patriots to bring in a veteran free agent during training camp.
Scenario III: Patriots draft a center to groom.
The Patriots do a good job of bringing in players a year before they're needed- and they usually are ready to step onto the field when called upon. If the coaching staff does not believe that Connolly, Wendell, or McDonald is the answer at center, the Patriots could definitely be on the market to draft a center to groom. If that were the case, then the draft pick would most likely take Donald Thomas's roster spot as Wendell and Connolly are more than capable of backing up the guard role.
Scenario IV: Ideal situation.
In an ideal situation, Waters doesn't retire and Koppen is able to come back at full strength. The Patriots will also think of the future and draft the center of the future. Here's the roster:
T: Solder - Vollmer
T/G: Gallery - Cannon
G: Mankins - Waters
G/C: Connolly - Wendell - McDonald
C: Koppen - Draft Pick
Yes, I could see them holding onto an additional lineman just for the sake of grooming the squad. Waters, Koppen, and Gallery are all short-term fixtures and the franchise must still think about who will be taking their spots in the future. This scenario has Cannon as the future right guard, the draft pick as the future center, and Connolly and Wendell as the swing back-ups.
How do you think the offensive line's roster spots will play out