By: Steve Balestrieri
The Brian Waters watch in Foxboro seems to have taken a turn for the worse for New England Patriots fans with the news that the team has removed his name from his locker and seems at peace with moving on.
Does this mean that he definitely wonâ€™t return for 2012? No, but the chances have diminished that Patriots fans will see the Pro-Bowl guard in a New England uniform again. The Patriots have been patient up until now, but with the removal of his nameplate and the awarding of rookie linebacker Dontâ€™a Hightower of Watersâ€™ and Tedy Bruschiâ€™s #54, it is not what even a die-hard, glass half-full fan would consider encouraging news.
Waters came in and played at a very high level and was arguably the Patriots best offensive lineman in 2011. At the time, he signed a two-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $1.4 million per year.
Waters hinted at the end of last year that he was considering retirement. And with he being a no-show at off season workouts, OTAs, Mini-camps and all of training camp, the team and fans were still hopeful that he would come in before the first game of the year.
Rumors were running around that the Patriots tried to force him into taking a pay cut to the veteranâ€™s minimum, that he was offered bonuses that could easily be attained, that the Patriots even offered him a substantial pay increase. No one really knows for sure, except Waters and the Patriots staff but nobody is talking.
Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston had an interesting piece on that the Waters situation had little to do with money but absence from his family that was holding him back. Part of it was that he didnâ€™t want to stay away from his wife and children for so long. Apparently Waters wants to play closer to his home in Texas. If that is indeed the case, then nobody should have a problem with that.
Waters may even want to play for the Houston Texans, who are much closer to his home in Texas, but barring the Patriots releasing or cutting him, the chances that they deal Waters to Houston, who need help at guard are slim to none. They arenâ€™t going to help a team considered to be one of the front runners for the AFC crown this season.
So will Watersâ€™ absence spell doom for the Patriots and their offensive line this season? Hardly. While there is no question that his presence makes them a much more solid unit and will allow Dan Connolly to slide over to center where heâ€™s an upgrade over Ryan Wendell, Connolly is a more than capable back-up at guard. That and Waters is 35 years old and this would have been his last season anyway. I would expect to see the team do some tinkering inside and see what other combinations will work.
Of more importance right now in my opinion is the health of right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. While Connolly is quite capable of filling in for Waters, the jury is really out on Marcus Cannonâ€™s ability to fill in if Vollmer canâ€™t go. Cannon is essentially still a rookie since he missed all of last yearâ€™s training camp and was placed on PUP while recovering from cancer treatments. Cannon struggled mightily at right tackle, leading many to believe that he canâ€™t play tackle in the NFL, that heâ€™d be better suited to playing guard himself.
None of that is helping New England at the moment, as it struggles to find the depth at tackle. Another thing to keep in mind is chemistry, Erik Frenz, lead correspondent for the AFC East at Bleacher Report did a good job of pointing this out with an article on Friday. With the starters playing so little during the preseason, it may take awhile for the line to get their collective act together. But ultimately, with Dante Scarnecchia as the offensive line coach, things should be just fine.
Pay close attention to the play of the offensive line on Sunday when the Patriots play the Titans. Tennessee has revamped its defensive line and will provide a good first test as the Pats offensive line will attempt to give Tom Brady time to throw. But something tells me, the offensive line tinkering this season will continue.