January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Ryan Wendell (62) and offensive lineman Dan Connolly (63) against the Denver Broncos in the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots: Standing Pat on Offensive Line Is a Bad Idea

January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Ryan Wendell (62) and offensive lineman Dan Connolly (63) against the Denver Broncos in the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the off-season upon the New England Patriots visions of free agents and trades for big-name playmakers are dancing through the heads of fans and media talking heads.  However, before looking outside the team, there are questions to be addressed internally with the Patriots own free agents.

 

Jeff Howe at the Boston Herald reports on the likelihood of offers made to the Patriots internal free agents. One particular internal free agent, center Ryan Wendell, seemed to be rated a little high by Howe.  From Howe:

 

Pats’ plan: They know a 6-foot-2, 300-pound center won’t break the bank in free agency, so they might start low (say, three years, $7.5 million) but probably won’t need to screw around too much. Keeping the starting line intact after Dante Scarnecchia’s retirement should be a priority in this transition stage.

Wendell’s plan: Wendell probably wants something similar to Dan Connolly’s deal (three years, $9.75 million), and that’s fair. Centers aren’t big-ticket items on the open market, so seeking leverage in free agency might even be a gamble that could yield unfavorable results.

 

Right now, Dan Connolly’s deal looks horrible. New England got very little bang for their buck from Connolly. In 2012 Connolly was average at guard and outplayed by Donald Thomas.  Thomas signed with Indianapolis and despite being younger and a better player the Patriots were stuck with Connolly due to their overpaying him previously.

 

In 2013 Connolly was even worse and is likely to be released in this off-season. While Connolly fared well in run blocking, he was terrible pass blocking. This season he allowed (per  ProFootballFocus.com) 27 quarterback hurries and 12 quarterback hits.

 

For the 2013 season Wendell had a very tough campaign.  He failed the eye test as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady often was unable to escape interior pressure right through Wendell. Lacking the premium size preferred by interior linemen, Wendell was a liability in the pass rush and his run blocking skills declined dramatically from 2012.

 

Per PFF, in 2012 Wendell was the highest rated run-blocking center in the NFL. However, he allowed the most quarterback hurries (18) and sacks (6) of anyone at the position.

 

In 2013, Wendell really fell off. His PFF rating dropped from 4th in the NFL to 33rd for centers. His effectiveness in run blocking declined significantly and he allowed 24 hurries (second only to Baltimore’s Gino Gradkowski) and again allowed 6 sacks to lead the NFL.

 

Tying up $2 to $3+ million per season in cap space to re-sign the ineffective center is a terrible idea.  Instead of negotiating with Wendell, the Patriots should be looking for another option at center in 2014.

 

With the impressive rookie Josh Kline or Marcus Cannon taking over at right guard for Dan Connolly, the Patriots really have just the center position to fill. The Patriots need to let Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly go and find a way to improve production in the middle of the offensive line.  To resign Wendell and not release Connolly is a ticket to another difficult season protecting quarterback Tom Brady in 2014.

 

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