The New England Patriots' starting right tackle Sebastien Vollmer is a free agent this off-season. Vollmer has been an excellent player in New England when he has been on the field, but his track record with injuries has been bad and he has chronic back issues that should dog him throughout his career. Understanding that, and the fact that he will be a highly sought after option on the open market, the Patriots may not look to re-sign him.
Even though the Patriots may not feel comfortable enough with Vollmer to invest heavily in him, that doesn't mean they won't invest heavily in another free agent offensive tackle. Fortunately for the Patriots, one of the very best in the league just came free.
For the second season in a row, Eric Winston was released by his team despite impressing on the field during the season. Winston was released by the Houston Texans last year after six seasons as a starter at tackle. He was then signed to a four-year contract worth $22 million with roughly $10 million guaranteed. That was considered a very cheap contract for a player of Winston's caliber. Even though he didn't play through the four years of the contract, he will still have earned at least $10 million and at 29 years of age, will have a chance at one final big contract now.
Andre Smith of the Cincinnati Bengals will set the market for free agent right tackles. Smith is expecting to earn $9-9.5 million per season on his new contract. Winston's last deal wasn't anywhere near that and he likely won't be expecting similar numbers because of his age. While Smith is coming off of his rookie deal and entering what should be the physical prime of his career, Winston is 29 years of age and will be 30 before the end of next season.
Winston will likely receive a similar contract this off-season to the one he received last year. For the Patriots, that would be an ideal situation. Vollmer, despite his injury riddled recent past, has much higher demands than what Winston will expect. Because Winston has only one playoff appearance in his whole career, he could also consider taking less money from the Patriots for the greater possibility of winning a Super Bowl ring.
Even though his age works against him, and you have to wonder why he has been released twice in the past two seasons by different franchises, Winston's excellent play on the field will make him very attractive to Bill Belichick and company. The Patriots do have Marcus Cannon, an impressive tackle in a backup role last season, and clearly the best offensive line coach in the NFL, Dante Scarrnechia, currently under contract for 2013, but the upgrade Winston offers is too high to ignore.
There are no signs pointing to the Patriots signing Winston, but it would be a move typical of the Bill Belichick era in Boston.