|What the return of Dan Koppen means for the Patriots offensive line||04.13.12 at 12:33 pm ET|
With the news that veteran Dan Koppen has agreed to a two-year contract to return to the Patriots, it creates an interesting dynamic along New England’s veteran offensive line.
The 32-year-old Koppen, who was out for the bulk of the 2011 season with a fractured ankle, now faces a strong positional battle from Dan Connolly, who started in his place last year and has moved from versatile backup to important cog in New England’s offensive line. Earlier this offseason, Connolly signed a three-year deal worth more than $9 million, suggesting that he would now assume the role of primary starter and Koppen would be free to look elsewhere for work. (Koppen did reportedly have one free-agent visit with Tennessee.)
However, Koppen has been a steady and dependable presence up from since he was a rookie — a 2003 fifth-round pick out of Boston College, has started 120 of 121 games over nine seasons with the Patriots, and went to the Pro Bowl in 2007. When it comes to winning his spot back on a permanent basis, Koppen can lean on a lot of things in his favor, most notably the fact that he is close friends with quarterback Tom Brady.
If Koppen is at 100 percent — as many believe he is — that would free up Connolly to serve as either a stopgap for left guard Logan Mankins if Mankins is forced to sit for a stretch because of ACL surgery the Fresno State product underwent following an injury in the Super Bowl. Connolly could also provide support at the other guard position, as it remains unclear as to whether or not starting veteran Brian Waters will be back for a second season with the Patriots.
This move also means that Ryan Wendell returns to his role as a primary backup among the interior offensive linemen, leading a group that includes Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas.
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