Signed: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Chris Barker, Josh Kline, Markus Zusevics
Free Agents: Ryan Wendell, Will Svitek
It’s been years since the play of the New England Patriots offensive line was subpar, but that's exactly what it was in 2013. 40 sacks allowed was the most since Matt Cassel was sacked 48 times in 2008. It was the most times quarterback Tom Brady was sacked since he absorbed 41 takedowns in 2001.
Losing right tackle Sebastian Vollmer halfway through the season didn’t help, but it doesn’t absolve the unit of the disappointing pass protection it exhibited for most of the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, left tackle Nate Solder gave up 10 sacks. Marcus Cannon proved to be just adequate for a backup. The play of the interior was particularly faulty. Overall Pro Football Focus ranked the O-line 16th in the NFL.
The news isn’t all bad for this unit, however. The running game ranked ninth in the league as the two-pronged rushing attack featuring running backs Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount averaged 129.1 yards per game.
The rushing game would have had even better numbers had offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leaned on it more earlier in the season instead of relying so much on passing the ball. It's safe to assume that Brady would have appreciated a season-long commitment to running the ball.
The offensive line’s pass protection will improve with the return of Vollmer, but the O-line likely needs changes to provide Brady with a safe haven.
A change the Patriots must deal with is the retirement of assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia, who had coached with the New England organization for 30 years, the last 15 as the team's offensive line coach. Replacing him is Dave DeGuglielmo, who brings 22 years of NFL coaching experience to the position.
One change along the line that might take care of itself is at the center position where Ryan Wendell is a free agent. New England could simply let him walk. Another change could be right guard, as Dan Connolly has a year remaining on his contract.
As badly as the Denver Broncos Terrance Knighton beat Logan Mankins on a fourth-down sack in the AFC Championship, the Patriots' veteran left guard should be safe. Mankins didn’t play at his typical level in 2013 but the chances are good that he regains his form next season.
One way New England probably won't bolster the offensive line is through free agency. The last O-lineman of note the Patriots signed was guard Brian Waters in 2011, and he was signed on the cheap after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs in late July of that year.
It’s doubtful the Patriots will pursue free agents Travelle Wharton of the Carolina Panthers or Willie Colon of the New York Jets (though it would be fun to stick it to a division rival). Maybe a practice-squad long shot emerges from out of nowhere (center Braxston Cave or guard R.J. Mattes).
Tackle Markus Zusevics will have a chance to unseat Cannon as a reserve. At 6’5”, 300 pounds, Zusevics comes from an Iowa program that produced first-round picks Robert Gallery (Oakland Raiders, 2004, second overall), Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay, 2010, 23rd overall) and Riley Reiff (Detroit Lions, 2012, 23rd overall).
Typically New England selects offensive linemen in the mid-to-late rounds. So it could take a while to see the complete field of competitors for the starting jobs.
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