With the NFL's legal tampering window opening today, unrestricted free agents from all over the league can enter preliminary negotiations with teams other than the ones currently still holding their contractual rights. Among those players is New England Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder, who is scheduled to hit the open market for the first time since joining the NFL as the 17th overall pick of the 2011 draft.
Given his importance to the team and the fact that he is a fringe-top-10 left tackle, re-signing Solder should be the Patriots' top priority this free agency period. However, it will not be as easy as initially anticipated: Clearly the best tackle to enter the market, Solder is expected to attract plenty of suitors which in turn could inflate his asking price far above the $10.0 million per year he received as part of his last contract.
According to NBC Boston Sports' Mike Giardi, the market for Solder is developing quickly:
Interest in Nate Solder has – unsurprisingly – been off the charts. Texans and Broncos would appear at the head of the class (in addition to the Pats).
Considering this report, a recent story by The MMQB's Peter King comes as no surprise: Solder will consider his options – and there are apparently plenty –, with King thinking that the Houston Texans are one of the most realistic competitors for the 29-year old's services. This would make sense as Houston is in need of a top-caliber tackle while Solder has a history with Texans head coach and former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.
However, King also writes that New England will “be quite aggressive in their attempt to keep him”. How this push will look like depends on the next few days and the offers Solder will get once the market officially opens in two days. Ultimately, though, it would not be a surprise to see Solder's free agency work out similarly to linebacker Dont'a Hightower's last year: He will explore his value on the open market but return to the Patriots.
And for both parties involved, this would likely be the best-case scenario: New England would keep Tom Brady's blindside protector in the fold for the foreseeable future. Solder, on the other side, would not have to uproot his family in the middle of his son Hudson's cancer treatments.