What will the Patriots get from Trent Brown this season? They might not even know.
However, the eventual answer to that question could go a long way toward determining how successful the 2022 season is for New England.
Brown is back with the Patriots after re-signing on a two-year deal during the offseason. The monstrous offensive tackle’s talent is undeniable, but his long injury history prevented him from playing a full season in 2021 and clearly depressed his value in free agency. Add in the noteworthy weight clause in Brown’s contract, and it’s obvious the Patriots have questions about the 29-year-old’s ability to play a full season.
Nevertheless, Brown entered this offseason as the Patriots’ presumed starter at right tackle. But what happened over the course of the summer — not just with him, but with the offensive line as a whole — has made Brown perhaps the biggest X-factor on New England’s roster.
When the Patriots offense first took the field during mandatory minicamp, there was a notable change: Isaiah Wynn, a left tackle for his entire career, was on the right side; Brown, who hadn’t played left tackle since 2018, went back to his old spot.
Then, the offensive line, with a rookie at left guard and a converted tackle at right guard, was an abject failure throughout training camp. Along the way, Wynn battled injuries while seeing his name in trade rumors, and Brown looked good but not great while showing questionable commitment. It sure seemed like he got benched for the preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
But here’s the thing: The Isaiah Wynn experience more or less is defined at this point. The fifth-year tackle is an average player whose availability can’t be counted on. His routine OTAs absences also make it fair to wonder just how much he loves football — which surely concerns Bill Belichick.
The Patriots have navigated Wynn’s issues and made things work on the O-line every year since he entered the NFL. And if Cole Strange, David Andrews and Mike Onwenu stay healthy, it’s fair to expect that New England’s interior O-line will be relatively fine. Even with Matt Patricia coaching the offensive line, the Patriots probably could withstand some growing pains from everyone to Brown’s right, and an injury to Wynn wouldn’t be a total death sentence. Honestly, we probably can expect at least some of those things to happen in 2022.
But all of that is dependent on Brown, who’s missed 24 games over his last three campaigns, and his aforementioned issues staying healthy and playing at a high level throughout the season. If neither of those things happen, the house of cards in front of Mac Jones could collapse.
Consider this: Would you be surprised to see the Patriots at some point this season start Justin Herron at left tackle and Yodny Cajuste at right tackle? We certainly wouldn’t.
New England must get off to a fast start this season. An easy recipe for that not to happen would be the sophomore quarterback losing all confidence in his blind side being protected.
You could argue that, based on how he looked during training camp and the preseason, Jones already has little faith that he can get a consistently clean pocket.
Of course, there’s a chance that Brown stays on the field and looks like the player we saw in 2018, when he was a force at left tackle and played a key role in the Patriots winning a Super Bowl. He’s more than capable of pulling it off.
But recent history suggests that’s a risky bet, one that could result in disaster if it doesn’t pan out.