The New England Patriots have to fix their offensive line badly. The last time a position group was so thoroughly lambasted, head coach Bill Belichick went out and acquired wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker to scrub out the image of Reche Caldwell in the 2006 AFC Championship Game.
Well, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is expected to return to the coaching staff, which would greatly improve the quality of play. While former offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo wasn't a bad coach, he was clearly not the right fit after coming from multiple run-first offenses.
But Scar might not be enough. The Patriots have three tackles they want to trust in Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, and Marcus Cannon, although Solder is coming off an injury, Vollmer is aging, and Cannon just put up a goose-egg of an effort in 2015. The interior line is extremely young, with guard Josh Kline entering his fourth season in the league as the elder statesman of the group. Tre Jackson, Shaq Mason, and David Andrews just completed their rookie seasons, while Bryan Stork just finished his second year.
While overall depth could serve to improve, there is a clear hope for the young talent on the offensive line to take a jump in 2016. Mason finished the season on an extremely high note, settling in well at right guard, which was his college position. Tre Jackson picked up valuable experience and was one of the better pass protectors on the team. Andrews and Stork put up fairly similar performances at center, but Stork's size advantage will always give him the inside edge in a draw.
If these four players improve, as is expected of players beyond their rookie years, then the line will naturally be better. But are any of these players the answer? And would the coaching staff be willing to put all of their eggs in the same basket that broke in 2015?
It would make sense for the team to add a veteran guard to compete for a roster spot. While incumbent captain Ryan Wendell makes plenty of sense (a Wendell - Stork - Mason interior could be fierce in the run game), a new name has entered the market as the Saints released veteran Jahri Evans.
The 6'4, 320 lbs, to-be 33-year-old Evans is a five-time All Pro, but the Saints needed the cap space. Evans apparently had a Logan Mankins-like moment with New Orleans, as his record-setting contract was too much when compared to his production on the field.
"I've known this was a business since the day I've been here. ... The main thing is that I get paid what I'm worth," Evans told The New Orleans Advocate last season. "Sean (Payton) and I had a conversation about that before the season began and agreed on some things."
As a traditional right guard, Evans has always been one of the more well-rounded player in the league, being slightly more adept at run blocking as at pass blocking. The Patriots were willing to sign the then-34-year-old Brian Waters to play right guard for the 2011, so the addition of Evans wouldn't be unprecedented.
But would the relationship make sense?
Evans is no longer the same player he was from 2009-2013, when he was named to consecutive All Pro rosters. He suffered through multiple injuries in 2014, and missed time in 2015. Pro Football Focus considered Josh Kline to be a better player in 2015, and Pulpiteer IHateDavidTyree noted that the Patriots didn't sign guard Evan Mathis last year, and that Mathis is far superior to Evans at this point in their careers.
Signing a player like Evans would be an addition of a player on a clear decline, when there are three potentially better options.
1) The players already on the roster, with Kline under contract. Evans would take valuable time on the field away from Mason and Jackson, for a performance that could arguably be at an equal level.
2) Ryan Wendell understands the system, is a team leader, and would be available for an extremely cheap contract, having played on a two-year, $3.25 million deal for 2014-15.
3) There are a handful of veteran free agents that are playing at a higher level and for probably a lower contract, like the Chiefs Jeff Allen, the Vikings Mike Harris, the Steelers Ramon Foster, and the Lions Manny Ramirez. How much fun would it be to have another Manny in Boston?
The idea of Evans coming to New England and providing a Waters- or a Mathis-level season is tantalizing, but it's probably not realistic, especially with far better options available, both on and off the roster.