Editor's note: Each day this week, Jeff Howe will review the Patriots' 2010 season and preview 2011 by breaking down each position. On Tuesday, he looked at the wide receivers and tight ends. On Wednesday, he's looking at the defensive line and the offensive line.
New England's offensive line was full of storylines in 2010, whether they surrounded Logan Mankins' holdout and return, or injuries to Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur, or Dan Connolly's progression into a reliable starter, or Matt Light's Pro Bowl campaign.
It was a busy season in the trenches, but the Patriots' offensive linemen managed to stay cohesive and had a tremendous year. However, the offseason figures to be just as noisy, and a handful of decisions will impact New England's offensive line for next season and many more.
Offensive Linemen on Final Roster
Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Mark LeVoir, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Rich Ohrnberger, Quinn Ojinnaka, Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell, Nick Kaczur (injured reserve), Stephen Neal (injured reserve), Steve Maneri (practice squad), Thomas Austin (practice squad)
The Patriots ranked second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns, ninth in rushing yards and 10th in yards per carry. The offensive line surrendered 25 sacks, which was the fourth-fewest in the league.
Light and Mankins are free agents, and the belief is that the Patriots will work to keep both of them in town. Mankins should be the top priority, but there's no telling how much ill will remains between Mankins and the organization. If he is interested in returning to New England, the Patriots have the resources to make it happen. Light shouldn't demand as much money as Mankins, and if the left tackle is willing to take a hometown discount to finish his career in New England, the two sides should have an easy time working it out. But if Light is looking to find the biggest payday possible, it seems like an almost-certainty that another team will bowl over the three-time Pro Bowler with an enticing contract offer.
Will Stephen Neal retire?
For the first time in the last 12 months, Neal seemed a little perturbed with the retirement questions he faced as he cleaned out his locker last week. We can read into that a million different ways, but the fact is that Neal said he wouldn't make a decision on his future until he finished rehabbing his right shoulder, which required season-ending surgery. The 34-year-old has missed 28 regular-season games since 2006, and he has only played a full season twice in his career (2004 and 2005).
When healthy, the right guard has been a valuable member of the Patriots' offensive line. His contract runs through 2011, so the decision is his. If both Neal and Mankins return next season, Neal and Connolly would battle for the starting job at right guard.