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Patriots 2018 free agency profile: Re-signing Nate Solder should be New England's top priority

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Will the starting tackle return?

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots came up just short of their ultimate goal in 2017 as the team lost Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles. In order to get back onto the top of the NFL mountain, the team – on and off the field personnel – will have to quickly turn the page to get into a position to field the best possible team in 2018; one that will be able to once again compete for the world championship.

A big part of creating such a team is mastering the upcoming free agency. And if judged by the list of free agents to be, New England's front office will be busy over the next few weeks. Also over the next few days, we will take a look at those free agents to find out who might or might not get re-signed; and who should be a part of the 2018 Patriots. Today, we'll continue the series with offensive tackle Nate Solder.

#77 OT Nate Solder

2018 opening day age: 30

2017 playing time: 19 games (16 regular season + 3 playoffs); 97.9% offensive snaps, 19.4% special teams snaps

2017 statistics: 6 sacks, 19 hits, 10 hurries given up

2017 cap number: $11.17 million

The 2017 campaign started inconsistently for Solder and the offensive line as the unit appeared to be out of sync early on, especially when it came to keeping Tom Brady clean: The quarterback was sacked 16 times through the Patriots' first five games of the season, with three of those takedowns coming off Solder's left side. The starting left tackle bounced back nicely after a rocky first month, though, and improved noticeably as the year progressed.

In fact, Solder allowed only allowed three more sacks over New England's final 16 games of the season to bring his year-long totals to 35 pressures given up – most on the team, yes, but still a respectable number for a left tackle that played more than 750 pass-blocking snaps. His abilities as a pass protector combined with his elite run blocking and athleticism will make Solder a highly sought after free agent once the market opens in two weeks.

Ultimately, however, chances are that he returns to the Patriots on a contract similar to the one he signed in 2015 – likely the best-case scenario for both sides: While the team would keep its long-time starting tackle (one for which it does not have a clear successor in place), Solder would continue playing in a familiar system and also would not have to uproot his family amidst his son's cancer treatments.

Projection: Solder re-signs with the Patriots on a three-year contract worth a total of around $31.0 to $33.0 million.