Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light has been a staple at left tackle since replacing another well known tackle named Bruce Armstrong, who anchored that side of the line for 14 seasons before Light took over.  Now heading into the final year of his contract there are many questioning what the future will hold, and whether or not he could be a candidate to be traded at some point during this offseason.

Patriots Tackle Matt Light

Light, who was drafted in the second round of the 2001 draft, has protected Tom Brady’s blindside for the duration of his career.  He was also one of the keys behind the Patriots success in their running game during each of their Super Bowl championships.

Unfortunately injuries hampered Light for much of the 2009 campaign which opened up the opportunity for rookie Sebastian Vollmer to prove that he’s going to be a solid player in this league, and he did a more than serviceable job in Light’s absence.  Some recent discussions now surrounding the future of the offensive line have many wondering what the plan will be heading into the 2010 campaign.

Has Vollmer proven that they could live without Light?  Are they better served to move on and try and get something for him now before they lose him?

I think one of the interesting points surrounding this discussion is the fact that teams have really been coming at these guys to try and get to Brady, with 2009 being one of the most physical seasons we’ve seen in quite some time.  Many of these guys were banged up during the year, with Vollmer also suffering a concussion midway through the year and missing time.  With Light in the final year of his contract, while it would be nice to grab a potential high draft pick, protecting Brady is going to be critical next season and as we’ve seen they could use the depth.  After all, opponents aren’t going to be backing off next season and the protection definitely needs to be better.  According to published reports Brady was battling through a broken finger, rib injuries, and a leg injury. So despite only being sacked just 16 times last year, the other times he was drilled obviously left him pretty banged up.

They already have questions at right guard.  Stephen Neal was emotional at the end of 2009, basically saying he didn’t know if his body would allow him to play on another season.  Neal, who was a college wrestler and didn’t even play football in college but was an undrafted free agent in 2001, has been a tremendous player over the years.  He’s battled through injuries but has been a consistent contributor since he started getting playing time in 2002.  After he missed time this past season the Patriots saw Dan Connolly step in and play well, which lead to Connolly getting an extension after the season ended.  Nick Kazcur, who has been serviceable at right tackle since taking over in 2006 and signed a four-year extension, would be the likely candidate at right guard if Vollmer moves over to right tackle.

They have All-Pro Logan Mankins, who has been a nasty player and given them the necessary mentality that the guys up front really need in the NFL, especially considering the talented pass rushers and defensive tackles there are in this league.  He’ll be a restricted free agent, and while they have leverage in keeping him here for another season, it would be nice to see an agreement reached for an extension.  Makins hasn’t missed a game since he was drafted in the first round in 2005, and honestly guys like him don’t come around too often.

So they have some questions that they’ll need to address.  One would believe that they’ll address the line during the draft in April, and considering the success they’ve had recently with the players they’ve selected (Mankins, Vollmer, etc.) hopefully they’ll find another potential player who can contribute.

One poster in our message board forum suggested a line comprised of the following:

LT Matt Light
LG Logan Mankins
C Dan Koppen
G Nick Kaczur
RT Sebastian Vollmer

Hopefully with an offseason of rest and recuperation, Light will come back next season and play like the player we had seen before last year.  He’s obviously a leader in the locker room, as well as a great role model with all of his charity work here in New England with his foundation. 

In the end for all we know this is a non-issue behind closed doors. At $4.5 million that’s not exactly overly expensive for a two-time Pro Bowl tackle, so his contract isn’t exactly a burden.  Not to mention that knowing how important depth is on this football team, head coach Bill Belichick may simply decide to get what they can out of Light this season and worry about his contract later – especially considering 2011 may not even happen with the potential lockout looming.

Overall I think this group is pretty solid, and unless a team offers something ridiculous for Light that would cause them to pull the trigger (ie: like the Raiders did by offering a first round pick for Richard Seymour) I think trading him would hurt this team more than help them.  According to ESPN Light battled through a dislocated kneecap and an MCL injury which likely caused him to struggle the way he did.  Given some time off, by the time training camp begins he could be a different player.

In the end only the front office knows the plan.  Needless to say we’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out.  However feel free to post your comments and thoughts on this subject below.