Stefan Wisniewski has drawn the interest of the Patriots in the past. Could he get a call from New England this spring if he’s on the market? (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Based on what happened in the AFC title game against the Broncos, it’s clear the Patriots offensive line could use a bit of a boost this offseason. While New England figures to get better up front instantly with the return of injured vets like left tackle Nate Solder and interior lineman Ryan Wendell (if the 29-year-old does return for 2016) and could also get a boost via the draft, there are some intriguing free agents who could be available when the market opens in March. With the understanding that some of these players could ultimately be hit with the franchise tag — as well as the fact that there are other high-priced possibilities New England would likely take a pass on — here’s a list of five relatively realistic free-agent offensive line possibilities for the Patriots to consider this spring.
Stefan Wisniewski: The 26-year-old Wisniewski has been in the league for five seasons — four with the Raiders (2011-2014) and one with the Jags. Not an elite center, he’s distinguished himself by becoming a steady and dependable presence over the course of his career. He’s played in 77 of a possible 80 games in his time in the NFL (according to Pro Football Focus, he’s missed just 19 snaps in the games where he’s been active) and the 6-foot-3, 315-pounder has played both center and guard in the pros, as well as a collegian at Penn State. Considered a better pass protector than a run blocker, Wisniewski was on the Patriots’ radar last spring, as he visited with New England before signing a one-year deal with Jacksonville.
Donald Penn: Penn just completed his 10th season in the NFL, and the 32-year-old certainly fall into the “veteran who wants a crack at a ring before retirement” mode. Considered a good run-blocking tackle who is also steady enough to protect the quarterbacks’ blind side, he’s also developed a reputation for toughness and durability — he’s started every game the last eight seasons. The 6-foot-4, 315-pounder has played for the Raiders (2014-2015), Bucs (2006-2013) and Vikings (2006). A quality veteran who could come at a reduced rate.
Evan Mathis: Like Penn, Mathis is a veteran who doesn’t project to be a long-term type of addition, but the 34-year-old could probably provide you with one or two more productive years. The 6-foot-5, 301-pounder ended up moving from Philly to Denver this season after falling out of favor with Chip Kelly, and even though he’s not the elite-level guard that he used to be, he could still be an upgrade along the interior for New England at the right price. More of a run blocker than pass blocker, he could provide a boost for a New England offensive line that desperately needs a bit of old-school nasty when it comes to being physical up front. Over the course of his career, Mathis has played for the Panthers (2005-2007), Dolphins (2008), Bengals (2008-2010), Eagles (2011-2014) and Broncos.
Ted Larsen: The 28-year-old Larsen has a history with the Patriots — the North Carolina State product was a sixth-round pick of New England in 2010 before he ended up in Tampa Bay. He spent four seasons with the Bucs before moving on to Arizona, where, for the last two seasons, he’s been a fairly regular part of the Cardinals’ interior line. The 6-foot-2, 305-pounder has played both guard and center, and could provide depth along the interior at multiple spots if New England finds a way to get him back to Foxboro.
Russell Okung: A wild card — he probably won’t be able to return to the Seahawks after Seattle doled out big deals to Russell Wilson and the Legion of Boom, and he’ll probably command a pretty sizable deal on the market. But we’ll add him to the list because he’s an intriguing possibility for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he reportedly e-mailed all 32 teams earlier this month informing them that he’s going to have surgery on his injured shoulder, but should be good to go for 2016. (For the record, he said he did that because he’s decided to eschew using an agent and will represent himself this offseason.) The 28-year-old, a 6-foot-5, 310-pounder, has played six seasons in the NFL, all with Seattle, and has started 72 games in that stretch.
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