Finishing the 2022 season with an 8-9 record and out of the playoffs, the New England Patriots have plenty of work to do to return to postseason contention. One big part of this process will be taking care of their own class of free agents.
Quite a few players are headed for the open market, with a total of 21 players that were with New England last year in need of a new contract. Among them is offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, who is an unrestricted free agent and is scheduled to hit the open market on March 15.
Name: Marcus Cannon
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 61
Opening day age: 35
Size: 6-foot-6, 335 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? Leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft, Cannon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The questions surrounding his illness caused the Texas Christian product to eventually remain on the board until the Patriots selected him 138th overall in the fifth round. Despite his draft status and medical condition, Cannon was able to establish himself as a valuable member of the team’s offensive line for the next decade — one that went on to start a combined 80 games between 2011 and 2019.
After beginning his career as a backup — registering 23 starts over his first five seasons in New England — Cannon took over the Patriots’ starting right tackle job from Sebastian Vollmer in 2016. He subsequently signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract extension and never looked back, immediately earning second-team All-Pro honors that season and helping New England win the Super Bowl over the Atlanta Falcons. Two years later, he earned another championship ring with a victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Cannon opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic; the following offseason the Patriots decided to trade him to the Houston Texans. He appeared in only four games for his new club, however, before suffering a season-ending back injury. He was released the following year, returned to New England, and eventually added four more starts to his résumé. In total, he therefore has now seen action in a combined 143 regular season and playoff games with 88 total starts.
What did his 2022 season look like? After missing the majority of the 2021 season due to the aforementioned back issue, the Texans decided to part ways with Cannon: the team released him in March 2022, creating cap savings of roughly $5.2 million along the way. The move put the veteran on the open market for the first time in his career, but he received little interest despite his impressive résumé. In fact, Cannon had to wait until after the start of the regular season in September to sign his next NFL contract.
That deal brought him back to his old stomping grounds: the Patriots re-signed Cannon, adding him to their practice squad in mid-September. He did not see action in his first two weeks in New England, but was elevated to the game-day squad for a Week 4 game in Green Bay. Cannon ended up playing 25 offensive snaps that day, and was signed to the 53-man roster shortly thereafter. The next week versus the Detroit Lions, he made his first start — albeit as an extra tackle rather than a member of the team’s core five up front.
In both games and the following week’s contest in Cleveland, however, Cannon regularly moved in and out of the right tackle spot in place of an inconsistent Isaiah Wynn. With Wynn then missing the Week 7 game versus the Chicago Bears due to a shoulder injury, the long-time Patriot returned to his former position as New England’s starting right tackle. He held it for two weeks — playing all but five offensive snaps along the way — but was moved into the NFL’s concussion protocol following a Week 9 practice.
A few days later, New England moved him to injured reserve. While he would have been eligible to return after a four-week absence, the Patriots never reactivated Cannon and he ended his season sidelined. All in all, he therefore saw action in five games with four starts in his return to the team. He was on the field for a total of 207 offensive snaps (of 1,052; 19.7%) and 26 more on special teams (of 457; 5.7%), and was credited by Pro Football Focus with one sack and 10 additional quarterback disruptions given up.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Cannon originally joined the Patriots via a standard four-year rookie contract worth $2.34 million. Before that deal was up, he signed a two-year, $8.5 million extension with New England that was followed in 2016 by the five-year, $32.5 million deal mentioned above. That deal — which ran through 2022 because of his Covid-19 opt-out — traveled with him to Houston, but was cut short with his release in 2022. Cannon then signed a practice squad deal with the Patriots, followed by a one-year, $1.71 million pact upon his promotion to the active roster. In total, Over the Cap estimates that he has earned $38.14 million in contractual money over the course of his career.
Which teams might be in the running? Cannon’s age and injury history might impact his market, but tackle-needy teams might still be willing to give him a look. Among them are the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans. Additionally, the Las Vegas Raiders, who are led by former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, are also a possible landing spot.
Why should he be expected back? There are three main reasons why the Patriots might re-sign Cannon: 1.) The current composition of their tackle depth chart with only two players currently under contract for 2023 (Trent Brown, Andrew Stueber); 2.) His experience in the system; 3.) The cost associated with a potential one-year deal. Cannon is no long-term solution, but keeping him in the fold could give the team some wiggle room for free agency and the draft.
Why should he be expected to leave? Not only will Cannon turn 35 in May, his injury concerns are an issue as well: he has not played a full season since 2014, and missed the final two months of the 2022 season with a concussion. Add the fact that his play was uneven when he was on the field, and you get an unfavorable mix from the Patriots’ point of view.
What is his projected free agency outcome? At this point in time it seems unlikely that the Patriots will bring Cannon back into the fold for another year. In fact, the most realistic outcome — given his age and injury history — might be him ending his career altogether. Either way, the two working together again in 2023 seems like a long shot.
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