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Patriots 2018 free agency profile: Will LaAdrian Waddle return after his best season to date?

Waddle was serviceable in 2017 and now enters the open market.

NFL: New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-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.

#68 OT LaAdrian Waddle

2018 opening day age: 27

2017 playing time: 14 games (12 regular season + 2 playoffs); 55.7% offensive snaps, 13.2% special teams snaps

2017 statistics: 7 hits, 1 hurry given up

2017 cap number: $1.125 million

After two seasons as little more than an emergency option, Waddle had a quasi-breakout year in 2017. The former Detroit Lions offensive tackle established himself as the Patriots' number three at the position behind Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon over the course of training cam. As such, he replaced Cannon at right tackle after the starter suffered a season-ending ankle injury in week eight. Waddle was solid when on the field and did not allow a sack in place of Cannon.

However, in late November the 26-year old suffered an injury himself and as a result was relegated to a backup spot again; Cameron Fleming took over starting duties at the right tackle spot for the remainder of the regular season while Waddle saw only rotational snaps on offense and special teams. He was backup in the starting lineup for the divisional playoffs but again exited the game with an injury. As a result, Fleming would start the AFC title game and Super Bowl.

Waddle had a productive season in 2017 but struggled to stay healthy once he was given the chance to start. Still, he showed that he can be more than just a backup tackle and as such will likely be an attractive free agency option in a year when the market offers little quality at the offensive tackle position (outside, of course, Nate Solder). Consequently, it would not be a surprise to see a team invest in him and the Patriots instead move forward with Fleming as the top backup.

Projection: Waddle leaves the Patriots to sign a multi-year contract elsewhere; potentially one that pays him north of $3.0 million per season.