Patriots

A Patriots strength could quickly become a weakness

A Patriots strength could quickly become a weakness

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering the draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding said talent. We'll start things off with what is currently the team's greatest area of need: Offensive tackle.

HOW THEY PERFORMED
Considering the Patriots lost one of the best right tackles in football to injury, the performance at this spot has to be considered a rousing success. Back in August, when backup tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming were having a hell of a time in West Virginia trying to slow down the array of Texans pass-rushers thrown their way, it looked like this group might cripple the Patriots if anything were to happen to Nate Solder or Marcus Cannon. Instead, it ended up being one of the team's deepest positional groups. Solder led the group. After an up-and-down first half, he was stout following the team's bye week. In 11 games after the break, including playoffs - after getting more aggressive with his punch, according to o-line coach Dante Scarnecchia - he allowed just one sack and five quarterback hits. Cannon played in seven of the team's first eight games and was sidelined for the season when he aggravated an ankle injury he'd been dealing with for much of the season. Waddle performed admirably in Cannon's absence, taking on talented pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram of the Chargers, Von Miller of the Broncos and Khalil Mack of the Raiders and not allowing a sack in that stretch. When Waddle got hurt, Fleming stepped in and was more than serviceable. He started seven games, including two of three playoff games, and allowed three total sacks. Despite going against two of the game's best fronts in the AFC title game and the Super Bowl, neither Jacksonville nor Philadelphia could take advantage of New England's third right tackle. The Patriots needed depth at that spot for the second time in three years - 2015 was a mess at tackle due to injuries, and the Patriots were forced to use center Bryan Stork there briefly - and they had plenty this time around. 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018
Marcus Cannon, Antonio Garcia, Cole Croston, Andrew Jelks.

WHO ISN'T
Nate Solder, Cam Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle.

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED
It's about as dire as it gets -- a 10 out of 10 on the Gary Tanguay memorial "How concerned are you?!?" scale. If the Patriots aren't able to bring back one or more of their impending free agents this offseason, one of their deepest positions will suddenly become one of their greatest liabilities. Solder hadn't yet made any decisions about his future by the end of the season, meaning there's no guarantee he'll return. It's written into his contract that he can't be given the franchise tag so the Patriots will have to figure out a new deal with the soon-to-be 30-year-old if they want him. Fleming and Waddle could try to turn their fill-in performances this season into new contracts elsewhere in what will be a relatively weak free-agent tackle market. Cannon should be back to full health for the start of the 2018 season and he'll be a lock to start the season at right tackle, but it's the left side that could be an issue. The Patriots have three young tackles in-house in Garcia, Jelks and Croston, but it's unclear exactly how ready any of them will be to take on the massive responsibilities that come with protecting Tom Brady's blind side. Garcia missed his entire rookie season due to illness and lost a significant amount of weight - and he came into the league already relatively light. Jelks, an undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt, stayed on the non-football injury list this year and hasn't played since 2014 due to season-ending knee injuries in 2015 and 2016. Croston is a promising player headed into his second year - the Patriots protected him on the roster all season even though they knew he was buried on the depth chart -- but he's unproven. There are myriad question marks here. If the Patriots can't bring back Solder on a new deal, finding a left tackle capable of handling the job would probably shoot to the top of their offseason to-do list. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?
Not much. The most established tackles hitting free agency, outside of Solder, rank as some of the worst in football, per Pro Football Focus. Greg Robinson (graded as PFF's No. 66 tackle), Chris Clark (No. 77) and Donald Stephenson (No. 51) aren't necessarily names that scream "plug and play!" There are other swing tackles and career backups available, but if the Patriots are forced to look for Solder's replacement, it probably won't be on the free-agent market. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?
The options seem to be better here, although rolling with a rookie tackle at the premier position of left tackle would be a sizable risk. Three tackles are commonly referred to by draft experts as first-round options: Oklahoma's Orlando Brown, Texas' Connor Williams and Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey. Ohio State's Jamarco Jones, Oregon's Tyrell Crosby and Western Michigan's Okorafor Chukwuma have potential and could probably be had in later rounds, but they'll probably need more polish.

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?
The best way for the Patriots to address the situation would be by re-signing Solder. He could argue he's worth around $13 million per year (about what Russell Okung received when he signed a four-year deal at 29), and perhaps the Patriots would be willing to go there on a shorter-term deal depending on Solder's career plans. Otherwise, the Patriots could re-sign Waddle and/or Fleming and try Cannon on the left side. In that scenario, the Patriots may be hurting two positions while trying to fix one, but it still may be their next best option. If they're having a hard time coming up with answers, maybe the Patriots could try left guard Joe Thuney at tackle -- he played there in college -- but his length and his track record the past two years would suggest he should stay on the inside. Finally, if Garcia or Croston is ready to take on a bigger role, the Patriots could try either at tackle. Garcia is a very good athlete, but he'll need to get much stronger - especially after his illness - to play on the left side. Because the best tackle prospects in the draft will likely be off the board before the Patriots pick at the end of the first round, getting Solder back seems to be the most logical way to go about making sure the left side of New England's offensive line is secured for 2018. 

NFL Rumors: Why Patriots are gaining nearly $10M in extra cap space

NFL Rumors: Why Patriots are gaining nearly $10M in extra cap space

Remember when the cash-strapped New England Patriots entered the 2020 NFL Draft with a paltry $1.07 million in cap space?

It's safe to say they're no longer cash-strapped.

Teams are set to gain additional cap space after the NFL management council informed them that signing bonus prorations for players who opted out of the 2020 NFL season will be removed from the team's payroll and toll to 2021 instead, per NFL Media's Tom Pelissero.

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What does this mean for the Patriots, who have had an NFL-high eight players back out of the 2020 season already? According to Patriots cap wizard Miguel Benzan, New England's available cap space increases by roughly $9.2 million, from $26 million to $35.28 million.

According to OverTheCap.com, the Patriots now have the third-most cap space of any NFL team, behind only the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Football Team.

That's a double-edged sword, of course: New England has gained so much cap space because it has lost so many well-paid, key contributors like linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon.

Training camp is ramping up this week, so the Patriots may look to fill that personnel void by signing free agents or swinging trades. While they may not spend big on a marquee name like pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, they certainly have the resources to add some quality talent.

Beau Allen, Dalton Keene have amazing Patriots headshot photos

Beau Allen, Dalton Keene have amazing Patriots headshot photos

The New England Patriots unveiled their 2020 player headshots on Monday, and it was the newcomers who stole the show with their photos.

We finally got our first official look at Cam Newton in a Patriots uniform, but that wasn't even the highlight. Defensive tackle Beau Allen and rookie tight end Dalton Keene have the best headshots of the bunch, and it isn't even close.

Just check out the photos below, shared by Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal:


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Incredible.

Allen signed a two-year deal worth $8 million with New England in March. The 28-year-old appeared in 13 games last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tallying 0.5 sacks and 10 total tackles. He's spent six seasons in the NFL: four with Philly and two with Tampa. His amazing headshot is definitely another reason why he could become a fan favorite this season.

As for Keene, the Virginia Tech product was selected in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The 21-year-old could have a big role for the Patriots in 2020, especially with tight end Matt LaCosse deciding to opt out of the season. He could also help out at fullback with Danny Vitale opting out as well.