One of the most prominent names on the New England Patriots' list of unrestricted free agents is starting offensive tackle Nate Solder. The 29-year old, who was selected by the Patriots in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, has served as Tom Brady's blindside protector for most of his professional career and is about to hit the open market for the first time ever.
Naturally, a player of his stature, experience and past accomplishments is expected to be in high demand once free agency starts next week. However, according to Pro Football Focus, potential buyers should steer clear as the analytics website lists Solder among its “free agents to avoid”. Author Michael Renner gave the following reasoning behind listing him:
This one is a matter of price tag. We’d be fine with Nate Solder starting at left tackle for us next season, but the fact of the matter is that every team with a poor left tackle feels the exact same way and there’s no other option in free agency. Solder is going to get top-dollar despite ever being close to a top tackle. The highest he’s ever graded out among all tackles as a pass blocker was 21st back in 2013 and he was 45th this past season.
Solder, as Renner notes, is clearly the best offensive tackle to enter a free agency market that also has Patriots backups Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle among the most attractive options. It would therefore not be a surprise to see New England's starting left tackle receive higher offers – the expectation is that he will get offers upwards of $11.0 million per year – than he would if more top-quality tackles were available.
Does this make Solder a player to avoid? Only to a certain extent. While paying him like one of the league's top five tackles would be too much, giving him a contract with a yearly number like the one outlined above appears to be fair compensation for one of the best run-blocking offensive tackles in the league and a pass protector that allowed only three sacks over New England's final 16 games of the 2017 season.
In the NFL, value lies in the eyes of the beholder – and there is little doubt that Solder is plenty valuable to the Patriots due to his combination of past production, experience and lack of clear-cut replacement option. If New England offers the same level of value to the player will be seen over the course of the next week.