Earlier today, news broke that the New England Patriots will lose starting left tackle Nate Solder to the New York Giants on a record-breaking four-year, $62 million free agency contract. The move leaves a huge hole along the team's offensive line – one that has not existed for the better part of the last 17 seasons. How will New England fill it? Let's take a look at some of the options the Patriots have.
Promote from within
There are currently four offensive tackles on the Patriots' payroll, three of which coming off season-ending injury/illness: Marcus Cannon, Antonio Garcia, Andrew Jelks and Cole Croston. The latter of which is the lone tackle to finish the 2017 season on New England's active roster but played only nine offensive snaps all year long as he mostly served as an emergency depth option during his rookie season. Given the current personnel, an interior promotion to left tackle appears to be a risky venture for the Patriots.
New England could opt to move Cannon from his right tackle spot over to the left side but this would likely result in two positions being downgraded. In turn, Garcia, Jelks and Croston are the most realistic players currently under contract to earn the starting nod: Of the three, Garcia clearly bring the most upside to the table but is still recovering after missing all of 2017 due to blood clots in his lungs.
Explore the free agent market
Why did Nate Solder get offered a historic contract? Because he was clearly the best tackle to enter free agency this season – every other option is at least a tier below him. This means that replacing Solder one-for-one will not happen via free agency. However, that does not mean that New England should not explore the options that are available. The most notable of which are current Patriots free agents Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle, who shared starting duties at right tackle last year.
If the Patriots feel that one of them will be able to adequately fill Solder's shoes on the left side, New England should certainly try to bring them back into the fold. But of course, with the top option now off the market and other teams also trying to add to their tackle position – namely the Houston Texans and possibly Cleveland Browns – re-signing Fleming and Waddle could turn out to be relatively costly.
Make a trade
Trades involving starting caliber offensive tackles are a rarity in the NFL, but they do happen – look no further than Monday's trade between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals that sent Cordy Glenn from the Patriots' division rivals to the AFC North. New England has not been afraid to part ways with draft choices or players in the past and could therefore look at acquiring a potential starter at left tackle over the next few days.
Targeting players entering the final years of their rookie contracts (similar to what the Patriots did when trading for defensive tackle Danny Shelton) could be the way to go for New England as they would likely keep the asking price relatively low. Reclamation projects like the New York Giants' Ereck Flowers or Cincinnati's Cedric Ogbuehi come to mind.
Draft a player
The 2018 NFL draft will take place in six weeks – and New England should take a look at the offensive tackle prospects available. UCLA's Kolton Miller is probably the most intriguing option for the team due to a unique blend of size and athleticism that is similar to the one Solder brought to the table. The Patriots would likely have to invest their first round draft pick to get the 6'9, 310 lbs tackle but it projects to be a sound investment.
Other than Miller, Oklahoma's Orlando Brown could also be on New England's radar: He too brings ideal size to the table but has been falling down mock draft boards after a poor showing at the scouting combine. Florida State tackle Rick Leonard is also a player to monitor in case the Patriots opt to invest a mid-round selection in an offensive tackle. While he is a raw prospect, Leonard brings plenty of upside to the table.