The New England Patriots have more than 20 players set to hit free agency when the NFL league year opens March 15. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at each one. Next up: offensive tackle Conor McDermott.
2022 SEASON REVIEW
When injuries depleted the Patriots’ poorly constructed tackle group, they called in McDermott as a midseason reinforcement. New England signed the 30-year-old off the New York Jets’ practice squad just before Thanksgiving, and a week later, he was in the starting lineup.
McDermott wound up starting the final six games at right tackle, getting the nod over a healthy Yodny Cajuste down the stretch. He played all but one offensive snap in those games, providing some much-needed stability at the position.
It was the first time McDermott — a career backup originally drafted in the sixth round by the Patriots in 2017 — ever had held a consistent starting job. Before returning to New England in November in the wake of injuries to Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon and Cajuste, he’d started just six career games and never more than two consecutively.
From a performance standpoint, McDermott was far from dominant. But he held his own. The UCLA product finished the season as New England’s highest-graded run blocker by Pro Football Focus, and though his 58.0 pass-blocking grade was substandard, he did not allow a sack.
In early December, head coach Bill Belichick said McDermott had “picked things up … about as good as you could expect for a player coming in like this.”
“Conor’s played in the league,” Belichick said. “He’s played in this division and had a good training camp with us (as a rookie). We had a really good experience with him from when we drafted him all the way to the last cut. We were hoping to get him back on the practice squad, but he got claimed. So it’s kind of been a long, winding road here.
“But he picked up things quickly. He’s a smart kid. He’s picked up things quickly, and (he has) a lot of familiarity with teams in the division that we’ve played and that kind of thing. That’s all played pretty favorably.”
Wynn, Cannon and Cajuste also are impending free agents. Of that quartet, McDermott likely has the strongest chance of sticking around.
CASE FOR RE-SIGNING
Improving their offensive tackle group needs to be a priority for the Patriots, who currently have only Trent Brown and 2022 seventh-rounder Andrew Stueber under contract for the 2023 season. They should look to add at least one proven starter through free agency or the trade market while also using the NFL draft to replenish their pipeline of young talent.
If McDermott still is starting for the Patriots come September, that would be concerning. But every team needs viable tackle depth, and he played well enough this season to be a candidate for a swing role in 2023. Couple that with the fact that he’d probably cost next to nothing to re-sign, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see McDermott at least competing for a roster spot in training camp.
CASE AGAINST RE-SIGNING
McDermott is a replacement-level tackle who was on a practice squad two months ago. Keeping him won’t be a priority.
More Patriots free agent profiles: Jakobi Meyers | Damien Harris | Nelson Agholor | Jonathan Jones | Isaiah Wynn | Daniel Ekuale