NFL-caliber offensive linemen are in short stock these days, and the New England Patriots are running the risk of losing three of their own. Nate Solder, LaAdrian Waddle, and Cameron Fleming are all free agents. They will likely be approached by other teams in the coming weeks.
No easy fix for the New England Patriots Offensive Line
For left tackle Nate Solder, one of the top players in his position, the possibility of signing elsewhere seems all too likely. Earlier reports suggested Solder might consider retiring, but those rumors have since been shot down.
The Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, and Cleveland Browns all seem interested in signing Solder. The Texans started five different left tackles last year and are prepped to make a run at Solder. Denver happens to be his hometown, so their interest only seems natural.
Cleveland’s interest is more recent and could signal their readiness to part ways with veteran Joe Thomas. With a boatload of cash, Cleveland is well-equipped to counter any offer the Patriots put on the table in efforts to re-sign Solder. Early estimates put his potential contract at nearly $12 million per year.
Source says Browns are making a big run at Nate Solder to replace Joe Thomas at left tackle. Patriots are going to have some stiff competition. Browns have a ton of money to play with
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) March 13, 2018
If Solder does move on from New England the starting job would roll over to LaAdrian Waddle, who is himself a free agent. If Waddle signs with another team, the Patriots would then be left empty-handed at left tackle. Worse still, the team could also lose their backup at right tackle, a position currently manned by Cameron Fleming.
For a team known for their “next man up” style, what happens when there is no “next man”?
First thing’s first, the team should focus on at least re-signing Fleming. He can act as the backup to Marcus Cannon, who will be returning from a stint on injured reserve. Signing another free agent isn’t a bad idea, and the Baltimore Ravens happen to have a player available: Austin Howard. Howard’s age may be a concern for some teams, but he’s a capable right tackle. Why the Ravens let him go over James Hurst is a mystery.
Still, that leaves the team’s LT position wide open if all three free agent tacklers move on. For that position, New England should look toward the draft.
Players like Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame) and Kolton Miller (UCLA) are likely gone by the time New England is on the clock. However, they do still have adequate options further down. Chukwuma Okorafor (Western Mich.) and Orlando Brown (Oklahoma) could both flourish under a Belichick-Scarnecchia system.
Okorafor is projected to get picked up by round three. His ability to start on both sides of the field would be extremely useful for New England. His biggest upside is his size, which could be used to open up holes for New England’s running backs. This is my top choice, personally, and a more realistic target for the Patriots.
At 6′ 8″, Orlando Brown is one of the larger draft prospects this year. Brown’s size and heavy hands would be useful in New England, but his speed leaves something to be desired.
Even though he’ll probably be gone by the time New England is on the clock, some mock drafts have the team taking Mike McGlinchey in the first round. If available, McGlinchey’s strength and eye for the blitz would be key in developing better protection next season.
What if Nate Solder stays?
Even if Nate Solder stays in New England this year, they should still drop a pick on a rookie OT. A first-round pick on Brown or McGlinchey may not be ideal, but if Okorafor is available in the late second, New England should take him. It’s important to keep in mind that even if Solder stays two other offensive tackles are still free to sign elsewhere. With NFL-caliber offensive linemen in short supply, the team has to start thinking about their future at that position. If they do not address the position through free agency, then they must draft some tackles.