The New England Patriots have nearly 20 players set to hit free agency when the NFL league year opens March 16. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at each one. Next up: guard/center Ted Karras.
2021 SEASON REVIEW
Karras returned to the Patriots last offseason believing he would be their starting center. Then they re-signed David Andrews, who’d been expected to leave in free agency. That, coupled with the team’s desire to play the versatile Mike Onwenu at guard, led to Karras beginning the season on the bench. He didn’t play a single offensive snap in New England’s first three games.
But a spate of injuries and COVID cases thrust Karras into a starting role in Week 5, and he played so well that he never left. He started two games at right guard and the final 12 at left guard, helping stabilize an O-line that had struggled mightily for the first month of the season.
Karras’ strong performance prompted the Patriots to bounce the promising Onwenu — a rookie standout in 2020 and a Pro Football Focus darling — from the starting five, using him as a third tackle/jumbo tight end from mid-November on.
“Ted’s done a good job inside with the communication, toughness and just playing the way Ted plays,” head coach Bill Belichick said in late November. “He plays with good edge, and he’s done a good job for us.”
Karras graded out as PFF’s 16th-best guard this season, giving the Patriots two starters in the top 20 (right guard Shaq Mason was fourth; Onwenu, who split time between guard and tackle, was third). Karras’ pass-blocking grade ranked in the top 10.
CASE FOR RE-SIGNING
Karras’ play this season spoke for itself, and he brings the added benefit of being an experienced snapper. The soon-to-be 29-year-old should have other suitors but likely won’t command top-end money, which is good for a Patriots team that currently lacks salary cap space.
If they’re desperate to create more cap room, the Patriots even could consider trading Mason, re-signing right tackle Trent Brown and using Karras and Onwenu — who’s still on an uber-cheap rookie contract — at their two guard spots.
It’s unclear if New England has any interest in moving Mason, who is one of the NFL’s top guards, but doing so would free up $7 million in cap space, with $3.15 million in dead money left behind.
For what it’s worth, Karras, who was drafted by the Patriots in 2016 and spent his first four seasons in New England, said he would “love” to stay.
“I would always love to come back,” he said after the Patriots’ playoff loss in Buffalo. “I know this isn’t the time to make any of those decisions, and I know that the organization is going to look at everything. … Whatever happens, happens. I understand it’s a business. Obviously, (I) love being here and love the people here. I feel I fit in well, but that’s a long way off for now.”
CASE AGAINST RE-SIGNING
After starting 44 games over the past three seasons (two with New England, one with Miami), Karras probably wouldn’t be interested in competing with Onwenu for a starting job. So, his could decision could hinge on how the Patriots plan to deploy their talented 2020 sixth-rounder.
If they either intend to use Onwenu at tackle — where he excelled as a rookie — or trade Mason, then there would be a clear opening for Karras. But if they keep Mason and run back their 2021 plan of playing Onwenu at left guard, Karras likely wouldn’t be keen on re-signing to be an interior O-line backup.
Brown’s status could influence this decision, as well, as New England would be more likely to slot Onwenu in at right tackle if the 6-foot-8 starter signs elsewhere in free agency.