The New England Patriots are in a questionable state with their offensive tackles and there is likely a major move in the future at the position.
The current depth chart is as follows:
1. Nate Solder, 28-years-old by September 1st, free agent after the 2017 season. Currently the 11th highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL.
2. Sebastian Vollmer, 32-years-old by September 1st, free agent after the 2016 season. Currently the 66th highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL.
3. Marcus Cannon, 28-years-old by September 1st, free agent after the 2016 season. Currently the 62nd highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL.
4. LaAdrian Waddle, 25-years-old by September 1st, free agent after the 2017 season. Currently the 139th highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL.
5. Cameron Fleming, 23-years-old by September 1st, restricted free agent after the 2016 season. Currently the 216th highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Turns 24 on September 3rd.
The offensive tackle position really struggled in 2015 due to multiple injuries. Solder tore his biceps in week 5 against the Cowboys and was out for the season, Vollmer suffered concussions and ankle injuries, Cannon missed four weeks with a serious toe injury, and Waddle missed the last three games of the season with a shoulder injury.
Fleming was healthy, but he was a practice squad promotion and likely won't change the Patriots team-building strategy.
There is a chance that the Patriots will move forward with this depth chart, although that chance is slim. While Solder and Waddle both received contracts that imply roster security, Vollmer and Cannon will both be free agents after this upcoming season. Cannon failed to play up to the level that his contract demands, while the aging Vollmer is a candidate to receive the Logan Mankins treatment and get shipped off to one of Bill Belichick's feeder teams.
And that's where the discussion starts.
The Patriots need to think about the future and are in position to find an offensive tackle to groom as Vollmer's ultimate replacement. Maybe Cannon restructures his contract to a lower annual value and receives an extension, but signs point to the Patriots interest in a developmental offensive tackle in the draft.
When Bill Belichick constructs his roster, he generally limits himself to 3-4 tackles at a given time, with an extra player developing on the practice squad for emergencies. The last time the Patriots finished the season with five tackles on the roster was 2002.
Assuming Solder, with his $14 million in dead cap space, and Waddle, with his $250,000 signing bonus this offseason, are safe, the Patriots can only add a draft pick if one of Cannon or Vollmer departs. And as the Chandler Jones trade (and the Logan Mankins and Richard Seymour trades) shows, the Patriots would love to receive draft compensation for a player that won't be with the team beyond the 2016 season.
Vollmer carries $3 million in dead cap space for the Patriots, while Cannon only has $1 million, so moving Cannon would be the ideal move for the Patriots. However, we have to consider what Cannon's current value is on the market. He was last seen getting abused for the better part of the 2015 season and he is paid like a starting tackle. Would any team be willing to acquire him?
Cannon would cost an interested team roughly $3.5 million in cap space this season due to his chunky base salary (and since the Patriots would eat the prorated signing bonus). Vollmer, on the other hand, is a cheaper $3.0 million in cap space and is the superior player.
What could the Patriots receive in a trade for either of these players on expiring contracts? While Vollmer would be the more desired trade piece, Cannon is younger and a team could view him as a possible starter for the near future.
When the Patriots traded away Logan Mankins for Tim Wright and a 4th round pick, they were moving Mankins' incredibly expensive contract, but they were also giving the Buccaneers three seasons of control. This would point to a lower draft pick as compensation for Vollmer since the opposing team would not receive many years of service- although Vollmer's palatable contract could increase his demand.
While the Patriots were able to receive top draft picks for the expiring contracts of Seymour and Jones, both players were younger than 30 and viewed as centerpieces for defenses. That will not be the perception for either Vollmer or Cannon.
It would seem that New England would be in line to receive a midround pick in exchange for the two players. Recent trades for veteran offensive linemen like Eugene Monroe, Ben Grubbs, and Jeremy Zuttah- and even Mankins- have rarely netted a team more than a 4th or 5th round pick.
The Patriots probably won't move either of Cannon or Vollmer until they select their prospect in the draft; there's no point in trading either tackle if the team doesn't like the players still available in the draft. But if the team lands their ideal tackle in the 2nd or 3rd round, there is a chance that either Cannon or Vollmer will be moved before the opening week of the 2016 season.