If the New England Patriots can’t replace their previous starting left tackle, Nate Solder, it certainly won’t be for a lack of trying this offseason.
The Patriots are abiding by Michael Scott’s (and Wayne Gretzky’s) adage that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.
New England has drafted, signed, re-signed and traded for offensive tackles this offseason in hopes of finding a player to succeed Solder, who left for the New York Giants in free agency. It’s a tall task (pun intended), but the Patriots have some intriguing options who can compete for the role in limited padded snaps during training camp and preseason.
Here they are, ranked:
Wynn started — and was dominant in — 15 games at left tackle in 2017 for Georgia. He allowed just five pressures all season, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s less than a third as many pressures allowed than higher draft picks Mike McGlinchey (remember that name) and Kolton Miller. McGlinchey and Miller both were top 15 picks and allowed 16 total pressures last season.
So, what’s the catch?
Wynn is a shade under 6-foot-3, which is roughly three inches shorter than a prototypical left tackle. He does have 33 3/8-inch arms, which is long for his frame, and has the potential to play left tackle in the NFL, but there’s a chance he’ll have to move to guard.
There’s also an expected acclimation period for a rookie offensive tackle. So, while Wynn could be the left tackle of the future, he might not be the left tackle of Week 1. Still, consider him the favorite and most appealing option for New England.
2. Antonio Garcia
The Patriots drafted Garcia in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but he missed his entire rookie season — and dropped 30 pounds in the process — while on the non-football illness list with reported blood clots in his lungs.
Garcia, who’s been cleared for the 2018 season and has regained his mass, already was slight for an offensive tackle and had trouble keeping on weight in college. He’s four inches taller than Wynn but weighs just 302 pounds and also has 33 3/8-inch arms. Garcia didn’t allow a sack in 2016 at Troy and has great footwork for a left tackle, but he’s basically starting at the same place as a rookie after missing all of last season and barely participating in practices. He didn’t play a single preseason snap last season.
Garcia might still be a year off from being a regular contributor, but there’s still a lot of upside here. He’ll have a shot of replacing Solder in training camp and preseason.
3. Trent Brown
The Patriots acquired Brown in a trade with the 49ers after San Francisco drafted McGlinchey ninth overall.
Brown doesn’t have a ton of experience at left tackle, but he was one of the NFL’s better pass protecting right tackles in 2017. He played guard and right tackle in college at Florida, where he was blocked by left tackle and future first-round pick D.J. Humphries, and has started just one game as a pro — regular season or preseason — at left tackle. He played well in that game last season against the Arizona Cardinals, allowing just one quarterback hit and one hurry while lining up across from Chandler Jones.
Brown is massive at 6-foot-8, 355 pounds, but he doesn’t have typical athleticism for a left tackle. He’s stayed on the right side throughout his career because he’s been blocked by Humphries and Joe Staley, but left tackle would be new territory for the four-year pro. Can he handle it?
4. LaAdrian Waddle
The Patriots re-signed Waddle to a one-year, $1.5 million contract this offseason, and it was a smart move to add some degree of certainty at tackle.
Waddle was a three-year starter at left tackle in college, but he’s primarily played on the right side in the NFL. He has ideal size at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, but like Brown isn’t the type of athlete teams usually look for in a left tackle.
Waddle isn’t a bad option if Wynn, Garcia and Brown don’t work out, but other players have more upside.
5. Cole Croston
Croston is one of those players, based on his age and athleticism, who does have more upside than Waddle. He’s 6-foot-5, 315 pounds and was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa last spring.
Croston played all over the line during preseason last year but only was on the field for eight offensive snaps during the 2017 regular season. He split his time as a junior and senior in college between left and right tackle. He’s a longshot to start in Week 1, but the Patriots obviously like him.
6. Marcus Cannon
It is this writer’s opinion that New England is better off keeping Cannon at right tackle, where he’s been a star the last two seasons. Why mess up a good thing?
He played some left tackle in 2015 while Solder was injured, and it didn’t go very well. He has dropped some weight and gained some athleticism and confidence since that point, so maybe it could work? But there are definitely better alternatives, and Cannon should be viewed only as an emergency left tackle option.
7. Ulrick John
John, who recently signed with the Patriots as a free agent, has ideal size and athleticism for a left tackle, but there’s probably a reason he’s only played 282 total snaps since coming into the league as a seventh-round pick in 2014. John played left tackle in college and there’s plenty of tape on him at that position in preseason snaps.
8. Matt Tobin
Tobin is pretty simliar to John. They’re both big and athletic but don’t have the greatest track record during the regular season. Tobin also signed as a free agent this offseason and primarily has played guard in the pros. He has taken snaps at left tackle, though.
Something has gone terrible wrong if Tobin is the Patriots’ Week 1 starting left tackle.
9. Andrew Jelks
Jelks hasn’t played in a football game since 2014. He tore his ACL in consecutive college seasons at Vanderbilt, missing all of 2015 and 2016. The Patriots liked him enough to keep him on their 90-man training camp roster last season, but he then spent all year on the non-football injury list.
Consider Jelks a complete unknown commodity.