FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — This one hurts.
In the end, the New England Patriots stayed true to their financial discipline with starting left tackle Nate Solder, who is expected to sign a four-year, $60 million contract with the New York Giants, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The $15 million-per-season average would easily make Solder the top-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. The previous high was $13.25 million per season (Russell Okung with the Chargers; Joe Thomas with the Browns).
That’s an aggressive pact from the Giants, and it put the Patriots in a spot where they had to weigh the following question: Despite no obvious fallback plan at the position, would they extend themselves far beyond the range many projected to keep Solder?
As they often do, they chose the disciplined approach. Here are some follow-up thoughts:
1. As big of a hole as the Patriots have at left tackle, they are losing one of the best people to come through their locker room. Solder was the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in 2017.
2. The Patriots have Marcus Cannon under contract at tackle, along with 2017 undrafted free agent Cole Croston, a developmental prospect who showed enough promise last preseason to warrant keeping him over sixth-round draft pick Conor McDermott. Croston’s ultimate position fit is a bit of a moving target, but he mostly worked at left tackle and guard in the preseason. The team also has 2017 third-round pick Tony Garcia, but he didn’t play last season, spending the year on the non-football illness list. How much he will be able to be relied upon in 2018 is unknown. Andrew Jelks and Jason King are other developmental prospects.
3. Cannon’s career took a step forward when the Patriots locked him in at right tackle two years ago. If the club is considering a move to left tackle for Cannon in 2018, that comes with a notable risk based on that history.
4. Solder’s departure now shines a spotlight on two of the team’s other free-agent tackles, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming. Last year, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia referred to both of them as starting-caliber players. Waddle is probably more of a pure left tackle from a traits perspective, as he plays lighter on his feet. But the Patriots have won with both of them as starters, albeit in short stints.
5. Speaking of Scarnecchia, it seems fair to say his presence on the coaching staff softens the blow of losing Solder … at least a little. Scarnecchia has a well-earned reputation of developing linemen and getting the top group to play together as a unit. He’ll have his work cut out for him in 2018.
6. The Patriots will be in line to receive a 2019 third-round compensatory draft pick for losing Solder. Couple that with the departures of Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola, and the club is in line for additional ’19 compensatory picks as well. That is one of the few silver linings for the team during a two-day stretch of key players saying goodbye for deals that were richer than the Patriots were willing to pay, based on the roles they projected for those players.
7. With about $22 million in salary-cap space, the Patriots have flexibility to explore other areas, with receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive end Trey Flowers and guard Shaq Mason all entering the final year of their contracts. That probably wasn’t a major factor in the team’s decision-making with Solder, but it always has to be in the back of their mind — knowing what’s coming next — when deciding whether to make a financial investment that would make someone the highest-paid player in the NFL at his position. The idea of sweetening the contracts of quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski also has merit.