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How Ryan Wendell Affects Patriots Off-Season Plans

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We've talked about Vince Wilfork's impact, but what about Ryan Wendell's?

USA TODAY Sports

wait don't close this article I'm being serious

Take a breather. This article won't be what you're expecting.

We pointed out how the Patriots have only held four defensive tackles on the roster since they've moved to the 4-3 front and that the return of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly essentially reduces the potential for an early splash at the position. They're not the long term solution, but they provide enough of a buffer that the Patriots don't have to place the position at the top of their list of needs.

Think of Ryan Wendell in a similar situation. He was great in 2012. He was a little lackluster against the pass rush, but was fantastic in the run game. In 2013, he continued to struggle in pass protection and whatever skills he had blocking for the run game completely disappeared.

Ryan Wendell likely isn't the answer at center. But he's definitely a solution. With Sebastian Vollmer returning from an injury, the Patriots will be able to have Marcus Cannon compete with Dan Connolly for the starting right guard spot, and Connolly can still fight for a starting role with Wendell at center.

Competition is good. It also prevents the Patriots from having to cobble together an offensive line with whatever pieces are leftover; Wendell knows the system and that's worth plenty.

It also allows the Patriots to wager a draft pick in the third or fourth round on a developmental prospect who needs a season to develop. This is where Wendell makes sense- as a clear bridge between the now and the future.

Wendell's contracted is also structured in a manner that will only affect the team should he be worth a roster spot. While the big figures of 2 years, $8.15 million seems like a lot, if he fails to improve between now and the start of the season, his signing bonus of just $800k would leave a minimal impact on the cap situation.

He has to earn his roster spot. His money is manageable and only comes into play if Wendell is able to play.

But it also brings up another curious conversation. How can the Patriots have over $18 million in cap space wrapped up amongst three arguably average-to-sub-mediocre players on the interior line? Logan Mankins shared Vince Wilfork's disposition and won't be approached about a contract amendment to reduce his $10.5 million cap hit.

But Dan Connolly and his $4 million slice? Now he's definitely in line for a restructure. Don't be surprised if he's forced to take a similar structure to Wendell where his pay is linked to his ability to have an impact on the field and allow the team to cut ties should he fail to meet expectations.

Wendell's contract is built for a player who either has to earn his playing time, or will be cut for an up-and-coming talent.

Just like Wilfork, Wendell doesn't reduce the need for a future player. But what he does provide is a useful buffer until the new guy is ready to protect Tom Brady.

The need doesn't change, but the time frame for replacement has been extended another season.

With these moves, it's clear that the Patriots hope to address defensive end and tight end as early as possible as they're the positions where a day one starter is the most pressing.