When thinking about the upcoming free agency period for the New England Patriots, most think the priorities are centered on re-signing free agent wide receiver Wes Welker and free agent cornerback Aqib Talib. While Welker’s presence in the Patriots’ versatile no-huddle offense vastly contributed to its dominant offensive attack and Talib did help shore up the Patriots’ maligned secondary, there is no understating the importance of re-signing right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
Vollmer, a second round pick in 2009, has spent four years in New England on the offensive line. After an impressive rookie season, injuries derailed the right tackle in 2010 and 2011. But Vollmer returned healthy in 2012 and was a major factor in forming one of the best offensive lines in football. According to footballoutsiders.com, the Patriots offensive line ranked fourth in the NFL in run blocking and fifth in the league in pass protection. Vollmer was vital to the success of the Patriots pass protection as ProFootballFocus ranked him 22nd among all tackles in pass blocking efficiency. He allowed just 35 pressures in 617 snaps this season.
The Patriots are $18 million under the salary cap, but still it will be tough to bring back all the key pieces from last year’s team that reached the AFC Championship. Letting go of Welker would certainly be a mistake given how durable the receiver is and how efficient he plays at the slot receiver position. The Patriots would also regret losing Talib (unless he demands too much money or too many years for his contract) because the team’s 29th ranked pass defense needs all the reinforcements it can get.
The Patriots should focus on resigning Welker and Talib, but before they bring these heralded players back, they must retain Vollmer, one of the more reliable tackles in the league. The Patriots cannot afford to let Vollmer, who was on the field for 80 percent of the offensive snaps this past season, leave via free agency as they need their offensive line to remain one of its strong points.