The New England Patriots have one offensive tackle spot settled for the next two years — maybe, hopefully, possibly.
The Patriots officially are picking up left tackle Isaiah Wynn’s fifth-year option Monday, though the decision was made before the 2021 NFL Draft, a source told NESN.com. That means that Wynn will be under contract through the 2022 season. He’ll earn $3.64 million in 2021 and $10.413 million — fully guaranteed — in 2022. The Patriots’ other starting tackle, Trent Brown, will be a free agent after the 2021 season.
So, bank on Wynn and Brown to be the Patriots’ bookends for 2021 assuming both players stay healthy, which is not an overly safe assumption. Wynn only has played 18 of a possible 48 games since he entered the league in 2018 as a first-round pick. He’s dealt with Achilles, toe and knee injuries since being drafted. Brown stayed healthy for New England in his first stint in 2018, but only played 16 of 32 possible games for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2019 and 2020. In 2019, Brown missed time with a calf injury. In 2020, he was out for most of the season with a pectoral injury, COVID-19 and a mishap involving Raiders trainers and an IV. The latter two issues can be chalked up to serious misfortune, but Brown was banged up over the last couple of years even removing a pandemic or training staff ineptitude.
Given Wynn and Brown’s injury histories plus Brown’s contract situation, it’s important to note who the Patriots have as depth at offensive tackle. The top backup actually is presumptive left guard Michael Onwenu. Onwenu filled in admirably at right tackle last season and could step into that role again in 2021 if Wynn or Brown goes down. If, say, Wynn suffers another injury, then Brown could shift to left tackle and Onwenu could move to right tackle. Ted Karras then likely would come into the game at left guard. That still leaves the Patriots with five starting-caliber offensive linemen. Karras was the Miami Dolphins’ starting center in 2020.
If Brown leaves in free agency next offseason, then Onwenu could be the future starter at right tackle, but that would leave a hole open at guard. Karras also is on a one-year deal. The Patriots have three intriguing tackle prospects on their roster in Justin Herron, William Sherman and, to a certain degree, 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, however.
Herron showed starting potential as a rookie in New England’s swing tackle role last season. The Patriots could keep Onwenu at left guard and move Herron to right tackle in the future. Sherman was a sixth-round pick in this weekend’s draft. He’s undersized at 6-foot-3, 304 pounds but has 33.5-inch arms and started three seasons at left and right tackle in college at Colorado. Despite being a late-round pick, the belief is that he has starting potential.
Cajuste has yet to suit up for the Patriots after being a 2019 third-round pick. He spent his first NFL season on the non-football injury list and his second on injured reserve. Cajuste didn’t stand out last training camp, so this could be his last shot at making it in New England this offseason.
The Patriots also could use a high pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to solidify their roster at offensive tackle, but it’s nice to have options with Herron, Sherman and Cajuste on the roster. The Patriots liked offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker in the 2021 NFL Draft, and it’s possible they could have used a pick on the USC product if the first round had shaken out differently. The New York Jets traded in front of the Patriots to take Vera-Tucker, and New England took quarterback Mac Jones.
If the Patriots like Onwenu’s potential at right tackle, then Herron, Sherman or Cajuste could move inside to guard, or the Patriots could lock up Karras to a longer term contract to continue playing left guard in the future.
It’s good to know Wynn is in the fold until 2022, but his history of injuries doesn’t guarantee much. It’s good to have options in the form of Onwenu, Herron and Sherman. And don’t be surprised if the offensive line is a priority in 2022 with Brown’s contract set to expire.