Departed: Tre’ Jackson; Sebastian Vollmer
Need Level: Medium-Low
The Patriots lost two offensive linemen who were unable to suit-up in 2016 as Sebastian Vollmer was released (he is expected to retire) and 2015 fourth-round draft pick Tre’ Jackson was let go. Jackson had started nine games as a rookie and was expected to be back and competing at training camp this summer so his release was a bit of a surprise.
The Patriots kept back-up tackle Cameron Fleming (a restricted free agent) to compete with veteran LaAdrian Waddle for the active swing tackle role each week. Fleming was active more than Waddle due to his ability to come in as a sixth offensive lineman (tight end eligible) and use his devastating run blocking skills to make space in short yardage situation.
The Patriots extended second-team All-Pro right tackle Marcus Cannon already and left tackle Nate Solder should be a priority for an extension–but this being the Patriots they will probably let him play out his contract and then worry about re-signing him. The Patriots need to find a young tackle to develop for the future.
The interior offensive line seems to be a work in progress each season. The Patriots have last season’s third round draft pick Joe Thuney ensconced at left guard while 2015 fourth round draft pick Shaquille Mason handles the right guard spot. David Andrews returns for his third season at center.
Behind that young core in the middle New England has last season’s sixth round draft pick Ted Karras and a host of practice squad players. Chase Farris, Chris Barker, and Jamil Douglas will compete for a roster spot in the preseason. Expect the Patriots to bring in a bunch of undrafted free agents to compete at the interior offensive line.
The interior offensive line has proven to be solid in the running game but they struggle at times holding blocks in the passing game. Houston and Atlanta both exploited this weakness in the postseason getting pressure on quarterback Tom Brady straight up the gut. Improved pass protection is a must from this unit going forward.