With changes at left tackle, center and right guard last year, it's time for the New England Patriots to focus on continuity on the offensive line, and that starts with bringing back right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
Why shouldn't they? This group paved the way for a running game that averaged 136.5 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry. Quarterback Tom Brady was pressured the second-least of any quarterback to play at least 50 percent of snaps (via ProFootballFocus.com).
All the while, Vollmer had one of the best seasons for an offensive tackle last year. ProFootballFocus.com rated him as the 14th-best tackle in 2012, and ranks him fifth on their list of the top free-agent tackles.
He rated out 22nd in pass-blocking efficiency among both left and right tackles, and he helped the Patriots rank sixth in the NFL in adjusted line yards on runs off right tackle (via FootballOutsiders.com).
That being said, he may want to get paid fittingly. According to OverTheCap.com, that would put his price tag at a minimum of $5 million per year, which is where Falcons right tackle Tyson Clabo and Chargers right tackle Jeromey Clary fall.
The number seems realistic enough, but the Patriots must be cautious: Vollmer was bothered by back problems all year in 2011, and had a small back procedure during the 2012 offseason which severely limited his participation in training camp. Despite that, he was able to stay healthy and started 15 games at right tackle in 2012.
Can they count on him to stay healthy not just for one year, but for the duration of a contract?
Any concerns over his health will certainly come up in negotiations, but should not prevent a deal from getting done.
Even if it does, it won't be the end of the world.
The Patriots have been a talent factory for offensive linemen for years. Under the tutelage of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, the Patriots have had one of the league's best lines despite a lot of unheralded names and a great deal of turnover along the way.
Last year alone:
- Left tackle Matt Light retired after starting 15 games in 2011; second-year tackle Nate Solder stepped in and started all 16 games in 2012.
- Center Dan Koppen was released, and Dan Connolly moved to guard; backup Ryan Wendell manned the starting spot at center for all 16 games.
- Right guard Brian Waters didn't return after starting 16 games in 2011; by starting 14 games at right guard, Connolly finished a three-year period in which he started at three different positions.
That being said, behind Vollmer is Marcus Cannon, who struggled in the 2012 preseason and raised significant questions about his ability to fill in if Vollmer missed time. They avoided having to answer those questions, but why raise the issue again if they can skirt around it?
And with $18.5 million in cap space for 2013, they certainly can avoid it.
A four-year deal worth $23 million ($5.75 million per year) would surpass the contract given to Chiefs tackle Eric Winston last year, and would put Vollmer in the rank and file among the top 10 right tackles in the NFL without holding the Patriots down for too long in the event his back doesn't stand the test of time.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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