In a piece in which he lists the top questions for every team in the NFL, columnist Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com offers this when it comes to the Patriots: Do they keep right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receiver Wes Welker or do they let them walk and go younger?
Prisco then answers part of the question by focusing on Vollmer, who enters his fifth NFL season in 2013.
"As strange as it sounds, Vollmer would probably be the priority here," Prisco writes. "He is coming off a nice season -- although he tailed off late -- and helps bookend the line with Nate Solder. Welker is getting up in years, so if his demands are too high the Patriots might just let him walk. They can draft a younger, faster version."
Let's take a closer look at what the market might bear for a player like Vollmer.
One of the most recent deals for a right tackle was the Chiefs' reported four-year, $22 million deal with Eric Winston last offseason. Chargers right tackle Jeromey Clary inked a reported four-year, $20 million pact in 2011. The same year, Eagles right tackle Todd Herremans signed a reported five-year, $27.1 million deal while the Falcons' Tyson Clabo earned a reported five-year, $25 million deal. Back in 2008, Titans right tackle David Stewart signed a reported 6-year, $38.9 million extension. That same year, Giants right tackle David Diehl signed a reported six-year, $31 million pact.
For a pure right tackle, the market seems to be in the $5-6 million per season range.
Vollmer can make a strong case that he's a superior player to those above, and he also has proven to be able to swing to the left side, so a contract in the $6-7 million per year range could be within his reach. The one concern for any suitor would be protection against potential injury given some of the questions about Vollmer's back coming out of college and some knee issues from 2012. Another factor to consider, as noted by Pro Football Talk, is that there are several tackles expected to hit the market which could drive down prices.
A good comparable for Vollmer might be longtime Steelers tackle Max Starks, a similar swing tackle whose best years are behind him and whose last big contract came in 2009 (reported 4 years, $26.3 million). The market has naturally evolved since then.
Would the Patriots be comfortable extending to that point?
It's one of the team's compelling free-agent questions. Prisco, for one, views it as one of the Patriots' biggest.