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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Patriots problems at tackle, Vellano house fire, and the Joe Andruzzi Foundation

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The Patriots have already found themselves in trouble after forgetting to improve their offensive tackle depth. They’ll fix that moving forward.

1. The Patriots decision to ignore the offensive tackle position is really coming back to haunt them. Nate Solder pulled his hamstring in the 4th preseason game against the Giants, which leaves either Cameron Fleming or LaAdrian Waddle as the starting left tackle, with Marcus Cannon likely remaining on the right side.

For those that might not remember, Fleming and Waddle were both mid-season signings in 2015; Fleming was promoted from the practice squad in October, Waddle was claimed off waivers in December. In other words, literally every single other team in the NFL could have signed these players, but decided against it.

The issue is that quality tackles don’t grow on trees; the Patriots have to operate with a shallow depth chart at tackle this year and hope that Solder and Cannon can remain healthy for the entire season.

2. Or they can cross their fingers and hope that Sebastian Vollmer can return off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list in the middle of the season. Vollmer is not expected to play this season due to various injuries and it’s very possible that his time as a Patriot is at an end.

Vollmer will be a free agent after this season, he’ll be 33 by week 1 of 2017, and he hasn’t played a 16 game season since 2010 (the only time he played 16 games in his career).

Regardless of how Cannon performs this season, the Patriots will need to draft or sign a tackle next offseason. In fact, it seems quite un-Bill Belichick-like that the position was ignored this year, knowing full well that 2017 was going to yield big changes. I would have expected Belichick to draft an offensive tackle this past year so the player would have had a year in the system to grow before stepping up into a larger role in 2017.

3. Unfortunately, the tackle position is pretty weak in free agency as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cannon was a top five tackle in free agency and you can take that assessment in any direction you want.

The same applies to the draft class, which appears to only have three or four blue chip tackle prospects. Luckily the Patriots will have a 1st round draft pick to select one of them, but this seems like a year-too-late.

I would expect the Patriots to retain Cannon’s services and draft a top prospect to groom so the Patriots won’t have to deal with questionable tackle depth for the rest of Tom Brady’s career.

4. This reminds me a bit of 2013 and 2014, when the Patriots found themselves shorthanded and unable to overcome injuries at the edge defender role. In 2013, the Patriots were lucky enough that Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were able to both play 95+% of the snaps without suffering an injury, but the team flirted with danger in 2014 and had to trade for Akeem Ayers after Jones missed time.

The Patriots went out and signed Jabaal Sheard and drafted Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom in 2015 to make sure the position was stocked with talent.

The same thing happened at linebacker in 2014 and 2015. The Patriots lost Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins to injury at various times in 2014 and 2015, and had to rely on special teams liker Jonathan Casillas and Jonathan Freeny.

This past offseason, the Patriots signed Shea McClellin and traded for Barkevious Mingo to improve depth in 2016.

Perhaps the offensive tackle position will need to struggle again in 2016 after a weak 2015 campaign in order for Belichick and the front office to infuse some talent for the 2017 season.

5. Former Patriots defensive tackle Joe Vellano had an extremely difficult week as his house caught fire and he was released by the Patriots just a couple days apart. While tight end Rob Gronkowski offered to help in any way he could, Vellano had to move south to join the Falcons practice squad.

"I lost a lot of my Super Bowl stuff," Vellano said, via ESPN. "My ring was in my other house [in New York], but I had a bunch of helmets that were signed by the team and a bunch of gear and all that stuff. I had a little room for all the football stuff, and that caught on fire.”

Hopefully some players can band together to recreate whatever it was that he lost. I think that would be a nice gesture by the Patriots locker room, or Patriots owner Robert Kraft, if they were able to sign a team helmet for Vellano.

6. Here’s a good note about former Patriots guard Joe Andruzzi that I thought was worth sharing:

The Joe Andruzzi Foundation (JAF) and Empower Retirement today announced “Goal Line Giving,” a new charitable partnership aimed at providing financial assistance to cancer patients and their families.

Empower will donate $100 to JAF’s Financial Assistance Program for every point New England scores on the football field throughout the upcoming NFL regular season, kicking-off in time for the team’s week one, primetime matchup against Arizona on September 11, 2016.

JAF’s Financial Assistance Program provides one-time grants to cancer patients and their families in active treatment, allowing them to focus on what is most important: getting better. Specifically, the program is designed to assist patients with basic living expenses, such as mortgage, rent, and utility bills. JAF aims to serve as many patients as possible, by continually growing its ability to give to meet the needs of families.

Let’s root for the Patriots to score all the points, eh? Click here for more information.