There's this idea that the New England Patriots need to get an offensive tackle in free agency, but I don't believe that's the case.
Left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer are great options, while the team could do much worse than swing tackle Marcus Cannon. Exclusive rights free agent Cameron Fleming is another option, but he's a clear step below Cannon.
Personally, I think Cannon will restructure his contract to better suit his ability, and that will be enough for New England from a veteran standpoint.
Why? Free agency is missing a middle class of tackle prospects. There are starting caliber players and then there are pure depth options. There are very few players that could suit up as a back-up for the Patriots, without some other team willing to give them a starting role.
Both Solder and Cannon will turn 28 this season, while Vollmer will be 32. The best course of direction would involve a Cannon restructure, and then a selection early in the draft of a high-upside future replacement for Vollmer.
But if the Patriots were to add a tackle in free agency, here's a short list of candidates.
6. Broncos OT Ryan Harris; 31 years old. Harris has started 70 of a possible 110 games in the NFL, starting out in Denver, before moving to the Texans, Chiefs, and ultimately back to the Broncos. He'll probably stay in Denver, but he's the type of back-up that can really start in a pinch.
5. Steelers OT Kelvin Beachum; 27 years old. Beachum is coming off a torn ACL which really affects his value. He could stay in Pittsburgh, but it's likely that he'll look for a team willing to give him a one-year "prove it" deal so he can make another grab at a long term contract. His contract value is unknown.
4. Chargers OT Joe Barksdale; 27 years old. Barksdale will receive a big contract for roughly $6 million average somewhere this season, but I could argue that he's a player worth paying for with the expectation that Vollmer is at the end of his career. Barksdale is entering his prime and is a great tackle in his own right.
3. Chiefs OT Donald Stephenson; 27 years old. Stephenson has started 21 of a possible 60 games for Kansas City, including games at both tackle and guard. He hasn't been able to win a starting role, but that makes him a pretty solid swing tackle candidate.
2. Packers OT Don Barclay; 27 years old. Barclay is the Cannon of Green Bay, where he's been forced into the starting line-up to varying degrees of success. He's coming off a season where he earned $1.54 million as a restricted free agent, and could possibly double that amount moving forward.
1. Texans OT Chris Clark; 30 years old. Clark is the quintessential veteran spot starter, who has managed to collect 31 starts over 80 games. He's a perfect fit for a swing tackle, if the Patriots can land him. He's a prime candidate for a team looking for a veteran OT to start. He's playing on a dirt-cheap $1.74 million contract, almost half the price of Marcus Cannon's $3 million average per year contract.