BOSTON (CBS) — It’s the NFL offseason, so sometimes some stories get lost in the internet ether from time to time. And in that vein, here’s one story that undoubtedly slipped beneath the radar: Pro Football Focus graded Marcus Cannon as the very-best right tackle in the NFL in 2016.
Moreover, PFF’s grades had Cannon as the third-best tackle overall, period.
That’s no small matter.
The Patriots, as has been trumpeted in the newspapers, won the Super Bowl this past season — a year in which Tom Brady had arguably the best performance of his entire Hall of Fame career, a year in which LeGarrette Blount led the league with 18 touchdowns, and a year in which in the inexperienced QB duo of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett led the Patriots to a 3-1 record to start the year.
The offensive line, obviously, played a major role in allowing that offense to be as explosive and powerful as it was, and according to PFF, nobody was better than Cannon.
It’s interesting because prior to 2016, Cannon hadn’t exactly been known as one of the stronger players on the Patriots, let alone the whole league. In fact in the 2015 season — which ended in painful fashion for the offensive line in the AFC title game in Denver — Cannon received the lowest PFF grade of his career at 43.0.
But his turnaround from one year to the next was undeniable, leading to the surge to the top of the NFL in 2016.
CANNON’S PFF GRADE BY YEAR
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has received a lot of deserved credit, but it’s largely a credit to the player to be able to end up fitting in with some of the most well-known (and highest-paid) tackles in the NFL.
PFF’S HIGHEST RATED TACKLES IN 2016
1. Trent Williams, 92.8
2. Andrew Whitworth, 91.3
3. Marcus Cannon, 89.4
4. David Bakhtiari, 89.3
5. Joe Thomas, 89.1
What allowed Cannon to rise so high on the list was his steady work in both the pass blocking and run blocking game. He received an 86.5 grade as a pass blocker and an 88.2 grade as a run blocker.
As many instances of success tend to do with regard to the Patriots, the performance also sheds a very positive light on Bill Belichick, who had the foresight somehow to sign Cannon to a five-year, $32 million contract extension (with $14.5 million guaranteed) this past November.
From the Patriots perspective, that’s a massive bargain, compared to some of the contracts of other players on that list. Williams signed a five-year, $66 million contract with more than $42 million guaranteed. Whitworth signed a three-year, $36 million ($15 million guaranteed) contract with L.A. as a tackle in his mid-30s. Bakhtiari signed a four-year deal worth nearly $52 million (nearly $17 million guaranteed). Thomas signed a preposterous seven-year deal worth $80.5 million with $28.5 million guaranteed. And so on and so forth.
Obviously, left tackle is much more of a money-making position, but Cannon isn’t even the highest-paid right tackle. In 2016, he was the fourth-highest paid right tackle. He’s set to count for less than $4 million against the salary cap in 2017.
Cannon was a major part of the Patriots making it to the Super Bowl and then winning the Super Bowl, a game in which he played all 99 offensive snaps and received the highest PFF grade of any Patriots offensive player. (Yes, that includes Thomas Brady.)
And with Belichick’s foresight in getting the player to sign the contract, he figures to be a central figure for the next two runs at a Lombardi Trophy.