Over the course of the past few days, we have heard bad news on Sebastian Vollmer and Shaq Mason. Vollmer is dealing with a hip injury that will reportedly sideline him for the entire 2016 season and Mason is dealing with a broken hand, with his timetable being unknown. Today, we saw Bryan Stork traded to the Redskins. The Patriots are now without their once projected right tackle, right guard and center. And the season hasn’t even started yet.
What does that mean for the Patriots? First, it means that David Andrews is as of right now, the starting center. He was in competition with Stork throughout training camp and now has won the spot by default (he was ahead in the battle beforehand anyway). Second, it means that swing tackle Marcus Cannon is the projected right tackle, taking Vollmer’s spot. Cannon struggled for the most part in 2015 primarily filling in for the injured Nate Solder at left tackle, but Cannon could possibly get away being average at best in 2016 at right tackle instead. And third, while Joe Thuney has all but locked up the left guard position, there is still competition for the right guard spot while Mason is out.
Josh Kline was arguably New England’s best offensive lineman in 2015, so he could be front-runner right now. Sixth round pick Ted Karras could also fill the void as he has four years experience at right guard while attending Illinois. If Jonathan Cooper is able to recover from his plantar fasciitis flare-up any time soon, the former top draft pick could be an option. While Tre’ Jackson is only in his second year, he may be on the outside looking in for a roster spot let alone a starting role.
The Patriots are in a similar situation as 2015 when they dealt with multiple offensive line injuries and had the most offensive line combinations out of every team. They very well could be in a similar situation for the upcoming season with the injuries to Vollmer and Mason along with the trade of Stork. Friday’s “regular season dress rehearsal” against the Panthers should clarify a little bit more about what the starting offensive line could be come week one. But that does not mean that the team won’t be adding any more depth from the outside.
The Patriots are known to make smaller trades and free agent acquisitions to help bolster the lower end of their depth chart (Michael Williams, Justin Coleman, Keshawn Martin, Akiem Hicks, LaAdrian Waddle). We could very well see this happen again, but it would be too hard to predict right now with many teams having 85-90 players on their roster right now. But don’t rule out the Patriots closely monitoring the waiver wire and fringe roster player market for offensive lineman who could help add to the depleted depth.
As we saw with Chandler Jones, the Patriots are not afraid to make big trades. Someone who could be on the Patriots radar is the recently un-retired Anthony Davis. After taking 2015 off, Davis was re-instated a few weeks ago to the 49ers and has been practicing at both right tackle and at guard as well. More recently, Davis has been taking a lot more practice reps at the guard.
Position versatility is always a talent that Belichick covets, so this may only increase any interest he may have in him. As he is due only $22.625 million over the next five seasons with no dead cap penalty (meaning that a team wouldn’t owe him any money if he was ever released), he has a very team-friendly contract for a former top offensive tackle.
With the Patriots due to have the most cap space come next off-season ($53.4 million), being able to fit his contract in their budget wouldn’t be an issue. While the 49ers have their own offensive line issues, the Patriots could dangle a third or fourth round pick to entice them potentially. Another offensive lineman on the trade block is Cowboys guard Ronald Leary.
Neither Leary nor the Cowboys have made any efforts to deny that he is available for trade and he is still a very serviceable offensive guard. Due only $2,553,000 for 2016, Leary wouldn’t be expensive to trade for (like Davis, perhaps a fourth round pick would be worth enough) and could be an immediate upgrade to the Patriots offensive line.
Regardless, the Patriots are already dealing with depth issues on the offensive line and have some work to do in order make it more stable for 2016. The Patriots surely aren’t going to ride the season with the depth that they have and it’ll be interesting to watch what they do to try and “replace” the players they’ve lost.