Patriots

Once at odds, Solder and Cannon now lean on each other

Once at odds, Solder and Cannon now lean on each other

HOUSTON -- The Patriots offensive line is as close a position group as there is in Bill Belichick's locker room. Players' stalls at Gillette Stadium are lined up, one after the next, helping to foster a bond that is on display daily. 

SUPER BOWL LI: WEDNESDAY REPORT

They wait for one another to go to meetings or to leave the facilities. They are each other's rides to and from the stadium at times. They are guests at each other's homes on holidays. They generally travel in a pack -- as they did when they showed up to the Empower Field House for an indoor practice last week -- huddled up like massive middle-schoolers, waiting for the first bell.

Two members of the line, though, haven't always been fond of one another.

The two tackles who will be expected to keep Tom Brady protected when the Patriots take on the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, are now brutally honest about it: There was a time when they didn't get along.

"There was plenty of talk," Solder said. "It was just kind of like . . . almost like your brother. You know what I mean? You almost want to punch him [because] you can't stand him sometimes."

"Our start was a little rocky at first," Cannon admitted. "Rookies coming in, not really knowing each other. But we've grown a lot since then."

Solder was a first-round pick out of Colorado in 2011, a projected starting left tackle, and an apprentice to then-starter Matt Light. Cannon, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma shortly before the NFL Draft and slipped down teams' boards, was taken in the fifth round out of Texas Christian.

Perhaps it was that they were in competition for playing time. Perhaps it was that their personalities clashed. Perhaps both. But as their rookie season wore on -- with Solder eventually claiming a role as the team's starting right tackle -- their feelings toward one another continued to trend one way.

"We were both up to be drafted the same year, and I think there was a little animosity between us when we ended up on the same team -- which quickly became heavy animosity throughout the season," Solder said.

"That initial situation," Cannon said, "might have been a little bit of maturity . . . It's kind of like having the little brother trying to get the attention of the big brother."

"But over the year, that next offseason," Solder added, "we were the two that were hanging out with each other every day."

Eventually they gained an appreciation for one another. Solder saw how Cannon worked and vice versa. They got to know each other better, as did their families.

Now call the friendship they've built "a blessing." 

They are similar in that neither man can be described as boisterous. They are the epitome of the strong, silent type. But in those moments when they need someone to talk to, they've turned to each other.

"He's somebody that I can ask for help if I need somebody to talk to about non-football stuff or anything," Cannon said. "He's a really good guy."

Solder gained an even greater appreciation for Cannon last season. After beating testicular cancer himself in 2014, Solder's young son Hudson was diagnosed with a Wilms' tumor in his kidneys in the fall of 2015.

Cannon was one of the first people to go to Solder to provide some measure support. 

"He said, you know, 'I understand the nightmare you're going through. But just know, Nate, that the nightmare does end,' " Solder explained. "He's seen both sides of that. That was a huge impact on our lives . . . I'm so thankful to have him in my life."

"We've grown together a lot," Cannon said. "We have grown spiritually and on the field. Nate's a good guy. I like going fishing at his house. He catches more fish than me, but it's all good. He's a great guy. He's a great guy to look up to, and he's a great friend."

Report: Pennel's 2-year Patriots deal could be worth up to $8 million

Report: Pennel's 2-year Patriots deal could be worth up to $8 million

The Patriots deal with free-agent nose tackle Mike Pennel is for two years with a base salary of $5 million and could be worth up to $8 million in incentives, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss.

Pennel, 6-foot-4, 332 pounds, turns 28 in May. The former New York Jets defensive tackle will try to make up for the loss of Malcom Brown, who signed with the Saints. 

After the signing, Pennel spoke to Patriots.com about joining a "winning culture" in New England.

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On Instagram, Martellus Bennett writes he won't be coming back to Patriots

On Instagram, Martellus Bennett writes he won't be coming back to Patriots

They'll be no Bennett brother reunion, or a third stint with the Patriots for Martellus Bennett, according to his Instagram post.

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Swipe. This is why I can’t come out of retirement. I would love to play ball with my brother it would truly be a dream come true. But my biggest dream is to change lives with my creativity and that is what I am currently doing @theimaginationagency these kids don’t need another athlete to look up to or to aspire to be there’s plenty of inspiration out there for that. I want to inspire the next wave of creatives. The storytellers. The engineers. The designers. The doctors. The filmmakers. The composers. Tech moguls. And maybe a few athletes who like me never felt like they belonged in a locker room. I was never one of the guys guys most of my teammates would tell that. I’ve always been a creative who enjoyed competing. I’m playing the game that I was made to play and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Scoring touchdowns winning a super bowl has never made me feel the way seeing kids/families/people enjoying things I have created. I’m doing my life’s work fulfilling what I believe to be my life’s purpose. I hope everyone finds something that makes them as happy and as fulfilled as I have with my work @theimaginationagency I appreciate all of the love but this is waaaaayyy bigger than the game of football. Get your copy today. Link in my bio

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Bennett's brother Michael, 33, a defensive end, was traded from from the Eagles to the Patriots on March 8, leading to plenty of speculation that Martellus, 32, a tight end, who played a full season for the Pats in 2016 and last played in the NFL in two games for the Pats in 2017, would come out of retirement to join him in New England.

Marty B even got a pitch to return from his old quarterback in New England. 

Martellus Bennett has forged a new career with his Imagination Agency and he recently released his book "Dear Black Boy" which seeks to inspire African-American kids in outlets beyond athletics.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.