In reassembling their depleted offensive tackle group, the New England Patriots so far have aimed for solid contract rather than home-run swings.
Since the 2022 season ended, the Patriots have:
— Re-signed Conor McDermott
— Signed Calvin Anderson
— Signed Riley Reiff
— Tendered Yodny Cajuste
They also have Trent Brown and Andrew Stueber still under contract. This past season, Brown, McDermott, Anderson and Reiff all ranked between 43rd and 51st among tackles in Pro Football Focus grade, and Stueber has yet to play an NFL snap.
The top four free agent tackles (Orlando Brown Jr., Mike McGlinchey, Jawaan Taylor and Kaleb McGary) all signed elsewhere. If the Patriots pursued any of those players, it was not publicly reported. The only other tackle they were linked to was Andre Dillard, a backup in Philadelphia who ultimately signed with Tennessee.
Overall, this current unit is stronger than the one New England fielded in 2022 — when it cycled through four different starters on the right side and struggled to consistently protect quarterback Mac Jones — but not significantly so. It lacks both high-end talent and long-term stability, with projected starters Brown and Reiff both in their 30s, injury-prone and entering contract years.
The Patriots look primed to invest in the position in next month’s 2023 NFL Draft, either with their first-round pick (currently No. 14 overall) or on Day 2. At least five offensive tackle prospects are viewed as potential first-rounders: Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., Georgia’s Broderick Jones, Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison and Tennessee’s Darnell Wright.
Some of those players surely will wind up being out of the Patriots’ reach, but they will have options in the early rounds. Given their roster makeup, it would be surprising if they didn’t take a tackle at some points in Rounds 1-3.
As we await future additions, here’s a closer look at the six current members of this position group (ages as of the start of the 2023 season):
Career starts: 85
2022 starts: 16
Brown was a middle-of-the-road starter at left tackle this season. He fought through a nasty flu bug to play in all 17 games (coming off the bench in one) but allowed eight sacks and was flagged for 13 penalties, tied for third-most in the NFL. Five of those were false starts. Brown was more effective in 2021, when he was playing on the right side and Isaiah Wynn was on the left. It’s unclear where the Patriots plan to deploy Brown this coming season — and there’s still a chance he won’t be with the team at all. Brown is entering the final year of his contract, and New England could clear $11 million in salary cap space by trading him or $8 million by releasing him.
Career starts: 149
2022 starts: 10
Experience, experience, experience. Reiff has more career starts than the rest of the Patriots’ currently rostered tackles combined. He’s logged seven seasons as a starter at left tackle and three as a starting right tackle, so he has the ability to play either side. In 2022, he began as a backup in Chicago but started the final 10 games at right tackle. The Patriots expect him to win a starting job, according to a report from The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, and his contract ($4.15 million guaranteed with the chance to earn up to $9 million through incentives) backs that up. The big questions with Reiff involve his age and durability. He turns 35 in December and hasn’t played a full season since 2015.
Career starts: 12
2022 starts: seven
Most Patriots fans likely don’t remember Anderson’s first stint in Foxboro, as it lasted about two weeks in May 2019. An undrafted rookie at the time, he eventually found a home in Denver and appeared in 41 games for the Broncos over the past three seasons. The vast majority of Anderson’s regular-season snaps have come at left tackle, but he’s also seen work on the right side in each of the last two preseasons. The details of Anderson’s two-year contract had yet to be reported as of midday Thursday.
Career starts: 12
2022 starts: six
The Patriots plucked McDermott off the Jets’ practice squad just before Thanksgiving and thrust him into the starting lineup less than 10 days later. He wound up starting the final six games at right tackle — the first time he’d started more than two straight games in his career — and held his own given the circumstances. He didn’t allow a sack and finished the season as the Patriots’ highest-graded run blocker by Pro Football Focus. A former pupil of new Patriots O-line coach Adrian Klemm at UCLA, McDermott re-signed before free agency on a two-year, $3.6 million deal worth up to $5.1 million through playing-time incentives.
Career starts: five
2022 starts: three
The Patriots gave Cajuste an original-round restricted free agent tenure — a somewhat surprising move after they clearly favored McDermott over him down the stretch. The tender will pay Cajuste $2.7 million this season but also is non-guaranteed, meaning New England can cut the perennially underwhelming 2019 third-rounder at any point this offseason with no financial penalty. He’s should not be viewed as a roster lock.
Career starts: zero
The wild card of this group, Stueber was the Patriots’ final draft pick last year (seventh round, 245th overall) and missed his entire rookie season with a torn hamstring, though did return to practice in late December. He came to New England as an experienced collegiate starter, making 20 starts at right tackle and two at left guard over his final two years at Michigan. If he stays healthy, perhaps he’ll surprise some people this spring and summer.