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New England Patriots: Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Matt Light?

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New England Patriots: Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Matt Light?
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According to Stats.com, Matt Light gave up the most sacks of any New England Patriots offensive linemen by a large margin. He allowed 10 sacks out of 25 total allowed all season.

Wow.

Now, I'm not entirely sure on the accuracy of this stat. Does a free blitzer off the edge count as a sack allowed? It should tell you something, though, that the two AFC All-Pro tackles—Jake Long and Joe Thomas—gave up just 10 sacks between them.

Patriots fans had long discussed and even lamented Light's vulnerability to edge rushers. It seemed like the Dwight Freeneys, Jason Taylors, and Justin Tucks of the world could have their way with Light.

Well, if it wasn't evident or even existent before, it's now fully supported with statistical data.

Now, the only question is, what does all this mean for Matt Light?

He will be a free agent when the offseason officially begins, and has said that he will do what's in his own best interest. We know the Patriots will do what's in their own best interest, too.

The Patriots have enjoyed a long period of continuity on the offensive line, without having to face much turnover. Perhaps the Patriots will see the value in that and elect to keep Light around for another year.

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Don't bank on it too heavily, though. Especially not if they're using last year's performance as a barometer.

It's not as though the Patriots' pass attack suffered for his poor play. Brady ranked first in the league in passing touchdowns (36), passer rating (111.0) and interception ratio (0.8 percent).

If the possibility exists for an upgrade, though, why not take it?

The Patriots took Nate Solder 17th overall in the 2011 NFL draft, and in terms of pass protection, Solder could be a big-time long-term upgrade over Light. He played tight end before transitioning to left tackle. This suggests that he should have the light feet necessary to keep his balance and keep pace with quick and agile speed rushers off the edge.

In a recent article, ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss heaps praise on Solder. Reiss cites that Solder played in all but two offensive plays since the start of his sophomore season, and only allowed five sacks on 1,400 passing plays.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. Solder has some big shoes to fill. Dante Scarnecchia said himself that Solder may need some time to develop, speaking to fans at the 2011 NFL draft party at Gillette Stadium.

For a guy who's 6'8, [Solder] can really move his body and change directions very well. He can really bend his knees and stay up underneath people. He exhibits really good punch in the running game...we feel the liabilities he shows at times in pass protection are things that can be fixed, that he can fix and is willing to fix.

I have said in the past that the Patriots should consider keeping Light around to mentor his successor in Solder, but that might be a stretch given what they might have to pay him to be in that role. Another team might be willing to pay a lot more than the Patriots would be.

Thus, it may be time to say goodbye to Matt Light.

The Patriots live by the adage of cutting ties with a player a year too early rather than a year too late, as we have seen with Richard Seymour, Ty Law and others.

But with Nate Solder seemingly a developmental prospect, is that in the best interest of the team? Would the Patriots be confident in starting Solder if they're not able to retain Light?

I defer back to Reiss, who gave me some great insight on the Pats Propaganda & Frenz podcast:

It all depends on how much of a training camp there is, and how much time they have to get him up to speed in the system. I just find it hard to believe that if they had any doubt, that they would risk Tom Brady's blind side with someone who wasn't ready to go. So then you look at it and say, if he's not ready and Matt Light's not back, I don't think all is lost. I think you can slide Sebastian Vollmer over there, and we saw how well he did when he was called on to play left tackle a couple of years ago.

It's clear, then, that there are plenty of options in regards to protecting Brady's blind side. There are also a number of factors that will go into determining the ultimate outcome of the starting left tackle spot on the 2011 roster.

Who performs best in training camp, the readiness of Nate Solder, and of course the final decision on Light are just three of those factors.

The Patriots made a smart move though, by staying ahead of the curve in regards to Matt Light as both a free agent and a player who is closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

On the open market, Matt Light could command more money than the Patriots would be willing to pay him as a half-player, half-mentor.

 

Erik Frenz is the co-host of the PatsPropaganda and Frenz podcast. Follow Erik on Twitter @erikfrenz.

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