The New England Patriots have a major problem on offense.
The headline of the offseason has been about one thing on offense: How do you replace Tom Brady? It’s a good question with a short answer. You don’t. You don’t replace a first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, who won six Super Bowls and spent two decades as the face of the franchise, so don’t try.
The Patriots brought in former MVP Cam Newton to compete with Jarrett Stidham for the position. So, which of these two will win the job, and will the offense still succeed under them? It’s the best headline-grabbing question, but not the most important question on offense.
After a frustrating season on offense, even with Brady, plenty of questions remain, the biggest of which is the offensive line. After all, it doesn’t matter if you have Brady, Newton, or Stidham at quarterback if they don’t have time to throw. It doesn’t matter if you have Sony Michel, James White, or Curtis Martin if there’s no hole to run through.
Last season, the offensive line was ravaged by injuries. Most notably, David Andrews spent the season on Injured Reserve. He’ll be back, but the offensive line is down two players to opt outs, including Marcus Cannon. Ted Karras is in Miami now.
In total, New England returns the oft-injured Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason. This leaves a major question at right tackle, and in terms of depth. It’s impossible to ignore that there are questions surrounding Andrews’ health going forward, too.
The offensive line question goes deeper than just, “How does the offensive line improve?” It begins with staying healthy, which simply doesn’t seem likely, given the current state of the world and the team’s personal history. The second question, which will undoubtedly come up, is do the Patriots have the depth to handle this season? They may have to rely on rookies, and other players with minimal experience playing in the NFL.
Without the offensive line stepping up, and playing at the level it did a few seasons ago, there’s no way for Michel and the running game to get back on track. There’s no way for whoever wins the quarterback job to settle into a rhythm in their new role.
They’ll also have to find a way to do all that without offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. He’s off to enjoy retirement, after coaching on the Patriots staff most seasons since the early 1980s. He’s rightly legendary, and without him it’s difficult to have as much inherent confidence in the offensive line.
Those questions, and that lack of earned confidence in the unit without Scarnecchia’s gravitas, are why the offensive line is truly the biggest question for the Patriots offense in 2020.