Not an ideal year to try to fill those shoes.
Not only will Popovich and Bricillo be coaching a unit that has to get adjusted to protecting a new quarterback — and a new style of quarterbacking — in the middle of a pandemic. They'll also be moving forward without their longest-tenured starter on the offensive line, Marcus Cannon, who opted out for 2020 due to COVID-19.
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Cannon dealt with illness and injury through portions of the 2019 season, with perhaps his most difficult game coming while dealing with flu-like symptoms in a win over the Cowboys in November.
"I’ll just say one final thing then in closing that one of the real top efforts today would have to go to Marcus Cannon," Bill Belichick said after the game. "Marcus was, three days, just feeling under-the-weather. I honestly didn’t expect him to play today. We talked before the game, and he felt like he’d be able to work through it, so we tried to help him out a little bit there at the half.
"But, I would say overall, it was one of the top efforts I’ve seen. For a guy who just barely had enough strength to put on his uniform, went out there and played against multiple good football players."
Listed at 6-foot-6, 335 pounds, Cannon is a mountain of a man who cleared running lanes alongside right guard Shaq Mason on the way to three consecutive Super Bowl appearances and wins in Super Bowl 51 and 53. He led the way for James White's game-winning touchdown run against the Falcons for New England's fifth title, and he was a punishing blocker for Sony Michel and others as the Patriots running game grinded out a championship-caliber performance en route to Lombardi No. 6.
What do the Patriots do now without him? There is no clear-cut replacement.
Some of the options include last year's backup tackle Korey Cunningham, who replaced Cannon on the right side of the line in Week 2 of last season when Cannon left injured. The Patriots spent a third-round pick on West Virginia's Yodny Cajuste, who could factor into the equation, but Cajuste missed all of his rookie season on injured reserve with a quad issue. Justin Herron, a sixth-round choice this year out of Wake Forest, remains on the roster. Plus, guard Jermaine Eluemunor has some experience at tackle as well.
One interesting shift along the line could involve franchise-tagged guard Joe Thuney, who has been guaranteed almost $15 million this year on the tag.
His athleticism and football I.Q. allow him to play just about any spot along the line, which could make him a right tackle option with Cannon gone. Should he shift to an edge-protector role, that could open up a spot at left guard for Eluemunor, 2019 selection Hjalte Froholdt (on IR last year), or sixth-round rookie Michael Onwenu.
Free agents available at the moment include former Bills and Bengals tackle Cordy Glenn, former Jaguars and Browns tackle Greg Robinson, and former Patriots and Bills tackle LaAdrian Waddle. In three-plus years and 31 games with New England, Waddle made seven starts as a swing tackle in 2017 and 2018. He spent last year on IR as a member of the Bills.