Marcus Cannon was one of the worst offensive tackles in the NFL between 2014-15. He couldn’t protect the quarterback, he couldn’t mirror pass rushers, he couldn’t open up running lanes. He was a total disaster.
And now he’s received a 5-year, $32.5 million contract extension through the 2021 season. He will be the Patriots right tackle for the foreseeable future.
What happened? What changed with Cannon’s game and performance? Why would the Patriots invest so much in a tackle that is coming off two atrocious seasons?
Cannon is a much better player in 2016 than in years past
Cannon’s worst two seasons came under offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and that’s not a coincidence. When offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who coached Cannon from 2011-13, returned to the team, he had some criticisms about Cannon’s technique.
“He hasn’t used his length,” Scarnecchia said earlier this season. “His arms are really long, but he doesn’t use them like a guy that has long arms needs to use them. The more you keep the defenders out and away from you, instead of letting them get into your body and grab things, the better off you’re going to be at tackle. He seems to grasp that very well and embrace it. If he will continue to play that way, he’ll be fine. And he has been fine.”
DeGuglielmo did not teach good technique to the players and it showed. The second Scarnecchia returned to the team, Cannon was playing better than ever before:
So long as Scarnecchia is coaching Cannon- and the Patriots are grooming Cole Popovich to eventually take over as an in-house replacement for Scarnecchia with the same techniques- the Patriots should have a solid, if not great right tackle.
Offensive tackle free agency and draft classes are very weak
If the Patriots did not sign Cannon to an extension, he would be a desired candidate on the open market because there is no one else of note that will be available over the offseason.
Ravens RT Ricky Wagner seems to be recapturing his old form after an ugly 2015 campaign, but the 28-year-old Cannon might arguably have been the #1 tackle in free agency with the desired blend of age and ability- and if it’s a coin toss between Wagner and Cannon, it makes much more sense to retain the incumbent.
As for the draft, there are just three top tier offensive tackle prospects. Alabama OT Cam Robinson is expected to go in the top 10, or at least the top half of the first round, although he hasn’t played up to expectations. Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk has played just one season of FBS football after transferring from a Division III program. Florida State OT Roderick Johnson looks the part, like Robinson, but hasn’t played up to expectations and is very inconsistent.
The Patriots would much rather move forward with a player they know than hope that one of the rookies will be ready to start on day 1.
Patriots will have offensive line stability for first time in a long time
The Patriots rotated players at every position on the offensive line during 2014-15 with the hope that someone would step up and win a starting job. Instead of finding the best five players, it left the entire unit without any consistency or support. Scarnecchia buried that idea the day he walked through the door.
“They had so many guys playing multiple positions [last year], and we believe in continuity and trying to keep the same guys next to each other as much as we can," Scarnecchia said over the summer. "You can’t always do that, [but] I think that was a huge deal last year and hopefully we won’t get into that situation this year. Keep working with the same guys day in and day out, and hopefully they will improve."
Cannon is now penciled in as the Patriots starting right tackle through the year 2021. Left guard Joe Thuney is signed through 2019. Right guard Shaq Mason is signed through 2018. Left tackle Nate Solder is signed through 2017, while center David Andrews will be a restricted free agent after 2017.
We’ve seen the Patriots offensive line slowly improve every single week this year and they will continue to improve as they develop a rapport with their linemates. Andrews and Mason have continued to build their skill sets, with Andrews improving against bigger nose tackles and Mason faring better in pass protection. Thuney has exceeded all expectations as a rookie.
Look for the Patriots to try and extend Solder at some point in the coming months, too, as New England would love to run out the same offensive line for the next few years. Solder and Cannon will be 29 years old next season, which means that this same unit could protect quarterback Tom Brady for the next three or four seasons.