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UPDATE: Cameron Fleming joins Nate Solder as a top 3 free agent tackle after 2017

The Patriots have the best offensive tackles entering free agency and that’s not necessarily a compliment.

EDIT/UPDATE: Raiders OT Donald Penn has reached a 2-year extension, taking him off the free agency market. That means that Cameron Fleming is actually legitimately a top three free agent tackle, behind Nate Solder. Former Rams bust and current Lions tackle Greg Robinson is making a claim for consideration, but that just reinforces the point.

The tackles in the NFL are terrible and teams are trying to lock up every single one as quickly as possible. Will the Patriots let Solder test the market before making an offer? Solder’s been mediocre in 2017 after a strong 2016 season and perhaps a team won’t be willing to break the bank for his services- although the dearth of talent at the position leads me to think some team will pay top dollar.

But Fleming should join Solder as one of the top free agent tackles in the league, as incredible as that sounds.

After the New England Patriots drafted OT Tony Garcia in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, I wrote about how the team was preparing for free agency in 2018 when tackles Nate Solder, Cameron Fleming, and LaAdrian Waddle are all projected to be free agents.

The 2018 free agency tackle class was projected to be atrocious. Solder is easily the best player, followed by Raiders 34-year-old OT Donald Penn, who is currently holding out for an extension. The next few players were Steelers OT Alejandro Villanueva, Cowboys OT La’el Collins, and Bears OT Charles Leno.

Well, Collins signed a 2-year extension with the Cowboys on July 25th. On July 27th, the Steelers reached a 4-year extension with Villanueva.

And now the Chicago Bears are signing OT Charles Leno Jr to a 4-year, $38 million extension per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.

Prior to these three extensions, I joked that Fleming could enter the 2018 offseason as one of the top three offensive tackle free agents, alongside Solder and Penn. Now this seems closer to reality.

Check out this list of projected free agent tackles in 2018. It’s terrible. Half of the veterans all all coming back from serious injuries and the other half have been moved inside to guard. LaAdrian Waddle has a legitimate claim to be one of the top ten tackles in free agency and he’s a longshot to make the Patriots roster.

Solder has previously expressed a hope to extend with the Patriots, but remains unconcerned with the lack of new deal. Solder will be 30 years old next season and be in line for a 3- or 4-year deal worth $11-13 million per season. We’ll see if the Patriots are able to reach terms before the end of the season.