Patriots positional review: Hard look at big uglies

Patriots positional review: Hard look at big uglies
February 11, 2014, 4:30 pm
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Over the next two weeks, Tom E. Curran will analyze the Patriots position-by-position as we head into the offseason. Today: Offensive line. Tomorrow: Tight ends.
 
NATE SOLDER
AGE: 25 (4/12/88)
CONTRACT: Expires after 2014
2014 CAP HIT: $2,717,429 ($769,806 salary, $1,177,817 prorated signing bonus, $769,806 roster bonus)
 
The big left tackle is entering the final season of his rookie contract and he’s been a very good investment overall. Solid but not spectacular, very tough and pretty durable, Solder is a player the Patriots will have to consider getting re-done over the next few months. Dante Scarnecchia, the departed line coach, should be lauded for the level of play he got from Solder. He has lapses -- he got beat badly for a key sack in the AFC Championship game -- but you’re not going to find many you’d rather have than Solder.
 
LOGAN MANKINS
AGE: 31 (3/10/82)
CONTRACT: Expires after 2016
2014 CAP HIT: $10.5M ($6.25M salary, $4M prorated bonus, $250K workout bonus)
 
Like Solder, Mankins appeared to be the one beaten on a key blocking lapse at a critical juncture in the AFC Championship. He also collected his fair share of penalties, which is the norm. But even if those of us on the outside quibble here and there, the Patriots remain steadfast that Mankins is one of the league’s best guards. Given his leadership by word and deed, mobility even pushing 32 and versatility (he kicked out to replace Solder at left tackle this season), one can see why they’d overlook the occasional (or more) flag. Mankins is carrying a fat cap number this season. He’s not a threat to be released. He may be asked if he can rework his deal and push some money off into the final year of his deal (2015’s cap hit is also gargantuan).
 
RYAN WENDELL
AGE: 27 (3/4/86)
CONTRACT: free agent
2014 CAP HIT: none
 
Wendell is one of those Dante Scarnecchia specials, an undrafted player out of Fresno State that rose from practice squad to bit player to valued starter. He wasn’t as adept in 2013 at the center spot as he was in 2012 -- his first year there. Still, he’s a good technician and reliable player. If the Patriots want to replace him, they probably won’t find anything better down their roster. Dan Connolly can play some center so if the team wants to shuffle it can. My suspicion is the team will re-up with Wendell but continue to look toward finding his eventual replacement.
 
DAN CONNOLLY
AGE: 31 (9/2/82)
CONTRACT: Expires after 2014
2014 CAP HIT: $4,083,334 ($3M salary, $1.083, 333 prorated bonus)
 
Like Wendell and Mankins, Connolly is a smart technician who doesn’t have great overall athleticism but has good quickness and knows angles and run-blocking. His limitation is in pass blocking which wouldn’t be as big a deal if Wendell wasn’t sometimes overmatched by defensive line athletes as well (and, on occasion, Mankins). Entering the final season of his current deal, Connolly’s made himself a nice career. Whether he returns or not after 2014 is worth wondering about but his versatility to play center as well makes him valuable.
 
SEBASTIAN VOLLMER
AGE:  29 (7/10/84)
CONTRACT: Expires after 2016
2014 CAP HIT: $3.75M ($2M salary, $1.75 prorated signing bonus)
 
The big right tackle really turned it on in 2013 before his season was marred by injury and ended with a broken leg against Miami. After signing a new deal last offseason, Vollmer responded with a terrific performance. The right tackle spot will be returned to him.
 
MARCUS CANNON
AGE: 25 (5/6/88)
CONTRACT: Expires after 2014
2014 CAP HIT: $743,968 ($693,843 salary, $50,125 prorated signing bonus)
 
A utility player who filled in for Vollmer at right tackle when he went down. He can play either tackle spot or guard so he’s got value in terms of versatility. Extremely strong, he may be the understudy to Connolly at right guard but will have to be redone next offseason if that’s the plan.
 
WILL SVITEK
AGE: 32 (1/8/82)
CONTRACT: free agent
2014 CAP HIT: none
 
Effective enough in spot duty at guard and tackle. A veteran OL signed as depth who worked out fine. He was coming off injury in 2012 with the Falcons so this was a positive year for him. Patriots like their veteran offensive linemen but we’ll see if Dave DeGuglielmo has other veteran OL in mind.
 
JOSH KLINE
AGE: 24 (12/29/89)
CONTRACT: Expires after 2015
2014 CAP HIT: $585,000
 
Developmental player who walked into the starting lineup against the Ravens in Logan Mankins’ spot and played very well. Undrafted out of Kent State clearly an interesting player going forward for depth and possibly more if development continues.