The New England Patriots will look to defend their Super Bowl title in 2017. But first, they have some questions to answer.

Before the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off next week, marking the unofficial start of the NFL offseason, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Patriots’ roster. We’ll examine which players stood out in 2016, which ones have some work to do this offseason and which ones could be leaving town. 

Next up: the offensive line. 

UNDER CONTRACT
Nate Solder
Joe Thuney
David Andrews
Shaq Mason
Marcus Cannon
Joe Thuney
Tre’ Jackson
LaAdrian Waddle
Sebastian Vollmer
Jamil Douglas (practice squad)
Chris Barker (practice squad)
Chase Farris (practice squad)

IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
Cameron Fleming (restricted)

STANDOUT PERFORMER
This one has to go to Cannon, whom Patriots fans were ready to run out of town at this time last year. Fast forward 12 months, and the 28-year-old now is a second-team All-Pro with a five-year contract extension in his pocket.

Cannon’s career season included shutdown performances against All-Pro pass rushers Von Miller and Vic Beasley, who combined for zero sacks and one quarterback hit in two games against the Patriots.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
Thuney was the Patriots’ best rookie offensive lineman in years, but the young left guard also was the O-line’s weakest link during the latter part of the season. That’s not to say he was bad — he wasn’t — but he clearly still is developing as an NFL player.

BY THE NUMBERS
One: The number of offensive snaps Waddle, the team’s eighth O-lineman, played all season, evidence of just how healthy and stable this unit was.

Four: The number of offensive snaps Thuney and Andrews did not play this season. Both were on the field for 99.64 percent of the total snaps, with all five starters logging at least 90 percent.

Nine: The number of offensive line combinations the Patriots employed this season, 30 fewer than their 2015 total.

BIGGEST OFFSEASON STORYLINES
1. Who will be the third tackle? Cannon and Solder will be back, but Fleming, a swing tackle who also played some tight end in jumbo sets, will be a restricted free agent next month. It shouldn’t cost much to keep him around, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see the team let him walk and bring in a fresh face.

2. Will the Patriots address the offensive line through the draft? If you couldn’t tell by now, there aren’t many question marks on this O-line. Nearly all the key contributors should be back next season. Andrews and Solder both are set to hit free agency in 2018, though, so the team could look to add some insurance on draft night. Just don’t expect them to use a high pick on a lineman, as they have far more pressing needs elsewhere.

3. What will happen with Vollmer? Because the veteran right tackle spent the entire season on the physically unable to perform list, he’ll hit free agency one year later than scheduled, in 2018. Cannon and Solder have the two starting tackle spots locked up, and the Patriots owe the 32-year-old Vollmer $2.25 million in salary next season. He’ll likely either be cut or choose to retire.

Patriots offseason preview: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends | Defensive line/ends | Linebackers | Secondary

Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images