The New England Patriots long time starter Dan Connolly announced his retirement today. He was a team captain last season and he will be missed. We've offered our feelings about his retirement here.
But will this retirement impact the Patriots upcoming season? Probably not as much as people might think.
First, the Patriots gave away Connolly's #63 jersey to rookie Tre Jackson, so they likely had moved on from Connolly once they double dipped at guard in the draft. If you believe in the Patriots coaching staff and front office (and you absolutely should at this point), then they're under the impression that any combination of Jackson, Shaq Mason, Ryan Wendell, and Josh Kline would be an improvement.
Second, Connolly was regarded as one of the weakest guards in the league last season (Pro Football Focus agrees in their rankings). PFF considered him the lowest rated guard for pass protection, yielding a league worst 13 quarterback hits. Kline was just as good (if not better) than Connolly, and far cheaper, so the team were likely willing to move forward with Kline, even if in just a back-up capacity. If a player beats out Kline, it's more than likely they would have beaten Connolly, too.
Thirdly, Connolly has been on a downward trajectory on the field over the past three seasons. After a fairly consistently average performance during his first three seasons as a starter, he's seen a sharp decline in his age 31 and 32 seasons. It's unlikely that he'd rebound back to his prior form.
This isn't to say that Connolly won't be missed. He was a team captain for a reason. Ryan Wendell is now the longest standing member of the offensive line (2008), and the coaches didn't even think he'd be a fit on the line at the start of the 2014 season. Sebastian Vollmer (2009), Nate Solder (2011), and Marcus Cannon (2011) have also been on the team for an extended period of time.
But which player will carry the torch for leadership? It wouldn't be a surprise if sophomore center Bryan Stork stepped up to take over for Logan Mankins. But he's still young and a veteran swing player like Connolly held plenty of value. It will be interesting to see if Wendell won over the coaches with his play last season.
Connolly was an important member of the 2014 Patriots. But if anyone tries to sell this as a major loss for New England, they need to realize that the Patriots were already prepared to move on.