The New England Patriots enter this offseason with holes to fill and not much dough to do it.
According to OverTheCap, the Patriots currently have less than $10 million in available cap space for the 2022 season. That’s not nearly enough to address their various roster needs (linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver, etc.), re-up a few of their internal free agents and sign a new draft class, especially when one of those free agents (Pro Bowl corner J.C. Jackson) could cost upward of $17 million to retain.
This isn’t cause for alarm in Foxboro. There are plenty of ways teams can free up cap space, and the Patriots are adept at navigating these waters. They can restructure players’ contracts, converting base salary into signing bonus and spreading that bonus over multiple seasons. They can sign players to contract extensions that lower their short-term cap charge. And, of course, they can cut or trade players, depending on the terms of their contracts.
New England likely will employ a combination of these tactics as they construct their 2022 roster. But for now, let’s focus on the latter: trades.
A glance at the Patriots’ salary sheet reveals two especially notable candidates, both of whom happen to be starting offensive linemen:
LT Isaiah Wynn
Offloading Wynn would be the cleanest way for New England to create a large chunk of cap space. The 2018 first-round draft pick is set to earn a guaranteed $10.4 million salary next season on his fifth-year option, all of which would be removed from the Patriots’ books if he’s traded.
That’s a sizable jump from Wynn’s $2 million salary in 2021, but it’s not prohibitive for a starting left tackle. His 2022 cap hit currently ranks 16th among left tackles, per OverTheCap, and likely will rank lower after impending free agents sign new deals.
The question is whether any team would want Wynn, even at that moderate price point. The 26-year-old has been wrecked by injuries throughout his career, missing 33 games over his first three seasons, including playoffs. He was able to stay largely healthy in 2021 but went down with a late ankle injury that kept him out of the Patriots’ playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills. Wynn’s on-field performance also plummeted during the first half of this season, though he was better down the stretch.
What’s more, Wynn is the type of undersized tackle (listed at 6-foot-2, 310 pounds) who wouldn’t be a fit in every NFL system. Remember, most draft analysts projected him as a guard at the pro level. That’ll shrink his pool of potential suitors.
The Patriots would need to find a new left tackle if they move on from Wynn, but they could do that by re-signing Trent Brown, shifting him over and installing Mike Onwenu as their full-time right tackle, assuming Brown would be willing to return at a reasonable rate. Brown has played on the right side for most of his career, including this season, but started every game at left tackle for the 2018 Patriots team that won Super Bowl LIII.
New England also could look to find its left tackle of the future in the 2022 NFL Draft, regardless of whether Wynn stays or goes.
RG Shaq Mason
Trading Mason wouldn’t be for performance reasons. He was excellent this season — a legitimate Pro Bowl snub. Pro Football Focus graded him as the NFL’s third-best guard, trailing only first-team All-Pros Joel Bitonio and Zack Martin.
The issue is that Mason is set to carry cap hits of $10.275 million in 2022 and $8.875 million in 2023. And with a quartet of 2021 signees (Hunter Henry, Matthew Judon, Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor) all boasting cap hits above $13 million next season, Mason’s might be too heavy to bear.
A Mason trade wouldn’t be a clean break like Wynn’s, as the Patriots would be left with $3.15 million in dead money. But it would create $7.125 million in salary cap room. (If, for whatever reason, New England cannot find a trade partner for Mason, releasing him would have the same financial impact.)
Mason has been a Patriots O-line staple since his rookie year in 2015, but the team could view Onwenu as a desirable replacement. Right guard was Onwenu’s primary position at Michigan, and the second-year pro has seen spot duty there over his two seasons in New England.
The Patriots could re-sign the more affordable Ted Karras to man their left guard spot, where he performed well this season.
Other potential Patriots trade candidates include Agholor ($10 million cap savings; $5 million dead money), defensive tackle Davon Godchaux ($7.5 million cap savings; $2.5 million dead money) and slot cornerback Jonathan Jones ($6.2 million cap savings; $2 million dead money).