With one month to go until they are scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s starting offensive line.
Name: Marcus Cannon
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 61
Opening day age: 32
Size: 6-foot-5, 335 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)
What is his experience? Before entering the NFL’s draft in 2011, Cannon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The questions surrounding his medical condition caused the Texas Christian product to eventually remain on the board until the Patriots selected him 138th overall in the fifth round, and forced him to start his career on the non-football injury list. He eventually did return, though, and carved out a role as New England’s fourth offensive tackle — one that grew over the next few years.
After starting a combined 23 regular season and playoff contests over the first five seasons of his career as a backup and injury replacement, Cannon took over the Patriots’ starting right tackle job from Sebastian Vollmer in 2016 for good. After he subsequently signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract extension and helped New England win the Super Bowl, the then-28-year-old officially became a fixture along the Patriots’ offensive line. Over the last four seasons, Cannon’s role on the team has effectively been undisputed.
All in all, he has therefore now appeared in 134 total games for the organization with 80 starts: Cannon was a part of the starting lineup in 69 regular season contests as well as 11 playoff games — including the aforementioned win against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 as well as the one against the Los Angeles Rams two years later. The veteran was also named to one second All-Pro team along the way (2016) and would probably have been worthy of being recognized as part of New England’s Team of the 2010s as well.
What did his 2019 season look like? After helping the Patriots’ offensive line to one of the most impressive blocking performances in NFL history during 2018’s three-game postseason run, Cannon returned in his usual capacity in 2019. However, the first game of the season was a setback for the veteran: in the fourth quarter of New England’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to exit the game and subsequently sit out the following week’s contest as well.
While Cannon only missed that one game due to injury last year, his availability was not always perfect. He was listed as questionable due to an illness three weeks in a row in late November and early December, and also had to leave the Patriots’ Week 16 meeting with the Buffalo Bills in the second quarter due to an ankle injury. But despite the medical issues that came up over the course of his ninth season in the league, Cannon was still on the field for 1,069 of a possible 1,210 offensive snaps (88.3%).
As a part of New England’s offensive line, however, the veteran blocker did show some inconsistencies. While generally serviceable and still among the better right tackles in football, Cannon gave up a team-high 41 quarterback pressures over the course of the season: he surrendered 6.0 sacks and 12 hits — both second highest on the team behind Marshall Newhouse’s 7.0 and 13, respectively — and led the Patriots with 23 hurries. He also was flagged three times (twice for a false start, once for holding).
Cannon also had his fair share of ups and downs as a run blocker. New England’s running backs did average 4.57 yards per carry running around the right end of the formation (247 yards on 54 attempts), which may not be an outstanding number but is solid compared to the Patriots’ averages when running directly behind the right tackle: the team gained just 2.98 yards (149 yards on 50 attempts) — one of the worst averages in all of football last season. The struggle was not solely due to Cannon, but he did play a part in it.
He did not just fill an integral if somewhat inconsistent role on the Patriots’ offensive attack, though, but also saw some action in the kicking game: Cannon, who agreed to a slight contract restructure during the summer, was on the field for 64 of a possible 474 special teams snaps (13.5%) in 2019, with all of them coming as a blocker on field goal and extra point attempts.
What is his projected role? While he started his career as a swing tackle that saw regular action on both sides of the formation, Cannon has played only one role since taking over as a starter in 2016 — one he is also expected to fill in 2016: the 32-year-old will likely be used exclusively at the right tackle position. If he also returns as a starting option for a fifth straight year and can stay healthy, he will not leave the field at any point.
What is his special teams value? As noted above, Cannon does have some experience in the kicking game. He is, after all, regularly used at the right tackle spot on both field goal and extra point attempts. While the vast majority of his special teams experience stems from this role, Cannon was also used elsewhere in the past: in 2015, he saw a handful of snaps on the Patriots’ kickoff return team at the upback position.
Does he have positional versatility? Cannon has played snaps at four of the five offensive line positions since arriving in New England in 2011. He has been a starter at right tackle for the last four years, and has also seen some action on the other side of the line earlier in his career; he was also employed at the two guard positions, meanwhile, starting three games on the left side and one on the right. As for the 2020 season, however, his versatility can be seen as limited: Cannon will likely not see much if any playing time outside the right tackle spot.
What is his salary cap situation? While his deal was renegotiated one year ago and gave him some security to remain on the roster this offseason, Cannon is still on the same basic structure he was on ever since 2016: he has two years remaining on the pact, and is among the highest paid players on the Patriots’ roster. For the 2020 season, his salary cap number is $9.62 million. New England could, however, create gross savings of almost $6.5 million by parting ways with the veteran via release or trade.
What is his roster outlook? While Cannon is the elder statesman of the Patriots’ offensive line, he is no lock to make the team’s 53-man roster this year considering his age in combination with his salary cap number. That said, given the lack of established depth behind him — former third-round pick Yodny Cajuste spent his entire 2019 rookie season on the physically unable to perform list, for example, while Korey Cunningham has just 59 offensive snaps on his New England résumé — he appears to be in a good position to once more make the team as its starting right tackle.