As the NFL calendar officially flips to 2022, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the New England Patriots’ roster. We’ll examine which players stood out in 2021, which ones have some work to do this offseason and which ones could be leaving town. Next up: offensive line.
IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
2021 SEASON REVIEW
The Patriots’ O-line morphed from a liability to a strength over the course of the season.
After struggling mightily to protect rookie quarterback Mac Jones in the early going, this unit stabilized following some lineup tinkering (most notably inserting Karras at left guard) and Brown’s midseason return from an ankle injury. New England finished the season ranked third in Pro Football Focus’s pass-blocking efficiency, eighth in sack rate against, 11th in ESPN’s pass-block win rate and 16th in run-block win rate.
New England was especially strong in the interior, with starters Andrews (fifth), Mason (fourth) and Karras (15th) all ranking in the top 15 in PFF grade at their respective positions. Onwenu also earned the third-highest grade of any guard despite losing his starting spot to Karras and spending the back half of the season as a backup tackle/jumbo tight end.
Brown played just seven offensive snaps over the first nine games but was mostly excellent upon his return. Wynn also was better down the stretch after a miserable start to the season, though an injury kept him out of the Patriots’ lone playoff game.
TOP OFFSEASON STORYLINES
1. Will Brown and Karras re-sign? The Patriots have just two O-linemen set to hit free agency, but they’re big ones. The 6-foot-8, 380-pound Brown is a physical force from his tackle spot when he’s on the field, and he’s raved about how much he enjoys playing for the Patriots, suggesting he could be open to a hometown discount. The steady Karras was a quiet standout after beginning the season in a reserve role.
The Patriots’ decisions on both of these players will at least partly hinge on how they view Onwenu, who’s played both tackle and guard in his promising NFL career and has two years left on his dirt-cheap rookie contract.
2. Any surprise cuts/trades? The Patriots need to free up salary cap space in the coming weeks. Could they do it by shipping out an O-line starter?
Mason is one of the best guards in football, but he’s been mentioned as a potential trade/cut candidate because doing so would save New England about $7 million against the cap (while leaving behind $3.15 million in dead money). The Patriots, who have made similar financial-focused moves in the past, could re-sign Karras and play him and Onwenu at the two guard spots.
Wynn is another possibility. The Patriots wouldn’t have any monetary incentive to release him, but if they can find a trade partner, they can wipe his entire $10.4 million guaranteed salary off their books. Wynn hasn’t lived up to his first-round draft status during his injury-riddled career, but $10.4 million isn’t an overwhelming price to pay for a starting left tackle. One potential hurdle, though, beyond Wynn’s inconsistent play this season, is at 6-2, 310, he won’t meet some teams’ size requirements for the position.
3. Who will coach this group? For the fourth consecutive season, the Patriots’ O-line will need to adjust to a different coaching setup. Carmen Bricillo, who coached that group this season and did so jointly with Cole Popovich in 2020, was one of three New England assistants who left to join Josh McDaniels’ first Las Vegas Raiders staff.
Unless the Patriots can pull Dante Scarnecchia back out of retirement, the most logical replacement for Bricillo would be Billy Yates, a former Pats lineman who served as assistant O-line coach this season. This could wind up being Matt Patricia’s responsibility, however, as multiple outlets have indicated the former defensive coordinator and current “senior football advisor” could shift to offense this offseason.
Patricia was the Patriots’ assistant offensive line coach in 2005 but has not worked on that side of the ball since.