With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the focus is now entirely on 2020. The next important point on the offseason agenda will be free agency, which starts on March 18 and projects to be a big one for the New England Patriots: not only does the team have 19 players whose current contracts will expire — including quarterback Tom Brady — it also will need to use its limited resources to build a foundation for the upcoming season.
Up until the start of free agency, we will therefore take a look at some players who might interest the Patriots. Today, the series continues with guard Greg Van Roten.
Opening day age: 30
Size: 6’3, 305 lbs
Experience: After going undrafted in 2012, Greg Van Roten spent the first two years of his career as a backup for the Green Bay Packers before rather inconsequential stints in Seattle, the CFL and Jacksonville. In 2017, he eventually signed with the Carolina Panthers and turned his career around: Van Roten spent his first year as a backup before starting 16 games in 2018 and 11 more the following season before a toe injury knocked him out for the rest of the year.
2019 statistics: 11 games; 17 quarterback pressures surrendered (1.0 sack, 3 hits, 13 hurries); 2 penalties
2019 salary cap hit: $1.08 million
Free agency status: Unrestricted
View from Carolina
We asked Erik Sommers from Cat Scratch Reader to share his thoughts on Van Roten:
Greg Van Roten has worked his way up the ranks from NFL journeyman to solid starting left guard for the Carolina Panthers. After Andrew Norwell’s departure, Greg Van Roten was given the unenviable task of filling the shoes of a really good play, and for the most part his did pretty well. After some early struggles in 2018, he began to hit his stride midseason, and continued that good play all the way up until he landed on IR in November of this past year. In 2019, Greg was placed in the unenviable position of having a rotating door at left tackle due to injury and ineffectiveness, often playing alongside a rookie tackle. He also was facing inconsistent play to his right in newly acquired center Matt Paradis, who did not pan out quite as well as the team had hoped. Nonetheless, Van Roten was a solid player for the Panthers, but nothing more.
I expect in free agency this year that Carolina will make him an offer, but he’ll probably be offered more elsewhere. I would not be surprised to see the Washington Redskins make a serious run at him since Ron Rivera oversaw his rise from practice squad guy to NFL starter. The Panthers will have bigger fish to fry than re-signing a middling left guard, and someone is going to want to pay more for his services than they are.
The Patriots’ interior offensive line is a major question mark heading into the 2020 offseason, with the unrestricted free agency of left guard Joe Thuney and versatile interior backup/2019 starting center Ted Karras a big part of the uncertainty. While Karras returning to New England after all is not an unrealistic scenario, Thuney is expected to leave for greener pastures elsewhere after winning two Super Bowls in his four seasons with the club.
If that indeed happens, the Patriots might have to look for a replacement. Karras and second-year man Hjalte Froholdt could be part of the solution, but so might be Greg Van Roten. While not the biggest of names available, the 29-year-old brings plenty of experience to the table and has proven himself a solid blocker up front who is better as a pass protector but also serviceable as a road grader in the running game.
As such, he would be capable of filling a starting spot if need be but could also serve as a versatile interior backup like Karras was between 2016 and 2019. Ideally, the Patriots would not rely on Van Roten to start at any point in 2020 but as they found out last year having experienced depth along the offensive line is valuable.
Thuney, and to a lesser degree Karras, will determine the route the Patriots go along their interior offensive line. If the 27-year-old leaves town as is expected, however, New England might be smart to bring Van Roten on board as an experienced player with starting upside. Breaking the bank to sign him would be the wrong move, but a two-year, $5 million deal might be enough to do the trick and acquire him as a “break glass in case of emergency”-option if Thuney’s replacements — be they named Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt, or differently — fail to pan out.