The Patriots have some key decisions to make this off season with players set to become free-agents, namely Aqib Talib, Julian Edelman, and Legarette Blount. But there are also big decisions to be made on players who don't grab as many headlines. One of those players is center Ryan Wendell.
Here are some quick key facts to know about Wendell, along with the main arguments for keeping him, and for letting him walk.
Size: 6'2", 300 lbs
Experience: Heading into 6th season
Draft: Undrafted out of Fresno State in 2008
Why the Patriots should keep him:
1) Durability: Wendell is not just one of the most durable and reliable players on the Patriots, he is one of the most durable players in the entire NFL. In fact in 2012, after winning a battle at the position in training camp, Wendell played the most snaps of any player in the NFL with 1,379 total. This earned him an incentive-based bonus of $179,000 on top of his 2012 base salary of $750,000. He was also a standout on the offensive line that season, proving to be above average in both pass and run protection.
In 2013,Wendell sustained this durability, playing and starting in all 16 games. He was also once again among the league leaders in snaps played with 1,281 total (good for 5th in the NFL, 3 snaps behind teammate Chandler Jones).
However, despite continued reliability, 2013 marked a noticeable dip in on-field performance from Wendell.
2) Affordability: In 2013, Wendell earned a base salary of $1.015 million. While he is a center, not one of the more glamorous positions on the field, that is a relatively modest price tag for a player on the field as much as Wendell. The sheer number of snaps he has played over the past two seasons paired with his somewhat consistent play puts him in line for some form of pay raise. However, it should not be a number so significant that the team would be forced to walk away from the player.
Why the Patriots should let him go:
Decline in performance: At times this season, Wendell was a bit of a liability in pass protection, especially when faced with talented defensive tackles. He also had some snap problems with Tom Brady that led to some critical fumbles in the early stages of the season (still to be determined whose fault that was exactly).
He played in the center of a line that allowed 40 sacks, the most times Tom Brady has been dropped since his first season as a starter in 2001 (40 total sacks). The line was especially weak in the middle: According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan Wendell led all NFL starting centers with 6 sacks allowed in the 2013 regular season (Stat from Boston.com)
Could be replaced in house: If Wendell's pay raise proves to be too lofty for the team, there may be a replacement ready to step in who is already on the roster: Dan Connolly. ESPN Boston Patriots beat writer Field Yates wrote an assessment of the Patriots 2013 O-Line performance today, and included a scenario in which Wendell leaves and is replaced by Connolly:
Contractually, the Patriots have four of their five starters from 2013 in place for next season, as Wendell is the lone free agent. If the team brings him back, the 2014 starters may well mirror this year’s starting group. If Wendell doesn't return, the team could shift Connolly back to center, use Cannon at right guard and form an altered starting five.
Conclusion: As with all of the Patriots free agents, this decision will ultimately come down to the price tag for the player. Anyone who follows the team knows that they are exceptionally stubborn about getting a player at their price, and if Wendell asks for a raise that the team does not feel matches his performance, he will likely be shown the door, especially given the fact Dan Connolly could step in.
If Wendell is willing to take a team-friendly deal, I would bring him back. But based on his suspect performance in 2013, if he shows any reluctance to come back at an affordable rate, I would let him go and look to Connolly or perhaps the draft as resources to replace him.
So what do you guys think? Should the Patriots re-sign Ryan Wendell? Vote in the poll below, and let us know on Twitter: @PatriotsLife and @LiamPCunningham