Marcus Cannon was supposed to be a first round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He was huge, he was agile, and he was a great offensive tackle at Texas Christian University. Fate had other plans.
Cannon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer, at the NFL Combine and he plummeted down draft boards. The New England Patriots saw an opportunity to take a talented player at a decreased price, so long as they could wait through his chemotherapy, and selected Cannon in the fifth round.
Cannon started his career on the non-football injury list and joined the active roster in week 10 of his rookie season. He’s made spot-starts over the past few seasons before ascending into the starting role this year and earning praise as one of the best right tackles in the NFL.
Nate Solder was also supposed to be a first round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft out of the University of Colorado, and the Patriots selected him 17th overall. He’s been entrenched as a starter his entire career and is one of the better left tackles in the league.
The two tackles entered the league under vastly different circumstances and the two did not get along, as we learned during Super Bowl media week.
“The neat thing is we were both up to be drafted the same year and I think there was a little bit of animosity between us,” Solder said, “and when we ended up on the same team, it quickly became heavy animosity throughout the season.”
“You almost want to punch him because you can’t stand him sometimes,” Solder added.
“Our start was a little rocky at first when we were rookies coming in and not really knowing each other,” Cannon said before adding, “That initial situation might have been a little bit of maturity.”
Despite that initial strain, the two developed a solid relationship over the years, coming closer when Solder was diagnosed with testicular cancer and when Solder’s son Hudson was diagnosed with tumors in his kidneys.
“Marcus was one of the first people and one of the most meaningful people that came and talked to us and he said, ‘You know, I understand the nightmare you’re going through but just know that the nightmare does end,’ and he’s seen both sides of that,” Solder said. “That was a huge impact on our lives and we had a huge connection on the field where he says something, ‘Nate, play with all your heart with Christ with you,’ whatever it is, it really, really means a lot to me. I’m so thankful to have him in my life.”
The two linemen hang out away from the stadium and have spent six pivotal years together, experiencing the ups and downs of life.
“We have grown together a lot,” Cannon said. “We have grown spiritually and on the field. Nate is a good guy. I like going fishing at his house. He catches more fish than me, but it is all good. He is a great guy. He is a great guy to look up to, and he is a great friend.”
“It's awesome,” Solder said. “He got married our first year in the league, he's had two kids; I got married, have a kid of my own and one on the way. We've kind of grown up together in a lot of ways and I love the guy. It's a real pleasure to play with him. He's a phenomenal player. He's a great friend and I just feel lucky that God put us together."
The Patriots signed Cannon to a 5-year contract extension through the 2021 season, while Solder remains under contract for 2017 and is likely to discuss a extension over the upcoming offseason.
Despite their different paths, the Patriots found franchise offensive tackles in the 2011 NFL Draft, and their friendship will last far beyond the field.