Patriots: Examining in-house offensive line scenarios heading into free agency
By Jerry Trotta
According to reports, the New England Patriots are planning to be uncharacteristically aggressive this offseason, so fans should be expecting some major upgrades to be made through the draft, free agency and potentially via trade if they come across the right deal.
For the most part, fans would agree that the Patriots are in dire need of help at wide receiver, defensive end, linebacker and tight end. While we’re in lockstep with that opinion, however, can someone explain to us why the offensive line isn’t garnering attention as something that needs to be addressed in a big way in the coming weeks?
As things stand, both center David Andrews and versatile guard Joe Thuney are slated to hit free agency at the start of the new league year and we haven’t heard a peep in terms of whether the Patriots plan on retaining either player, both of whom played a combined 84.5% of the offensive snaps this past season.
It goes without saying that the Patriots having a clearer picture of who’s going to be starting on their offensive line in 2021 would make them a more appealing destination in free agency, so let’s examine some in-house scenarios they can consider executing.
The Patriots will have no shortage of in-house scenarios to consider when sorting out their offensive line this offseason.
In a perfect world, the Patriots would re-sign both Andrews and Thuney. However, seeing as though that could potentially sabotage their plans to address other positions of need, they’ll unfortunately end up having to choose between one or the other.
With that in mind, the most obvious proposal would involve re-signing Andrews and letting Thuney test the open market. We’d hate to see the former third-round pick go as he’s undoubtedly one of the most unappreciated offensive linemen in the league, but a breakup has been in the cards ever since the Patriots couldn’t get him to agree to an extension with him last offseason.
This scenario would give New England their center of the future in Andrews, who’s averaged a combined 74.0 blocking grade from Pro Football Focus for his career, as well as equip them with the requisite cap space to splurge on another positional need.
If the Patriots wanted, they could also choose to re-sign Thuney, cut Marcus Cannon, who confirmed that he’ll be returning to the team this offseason after opting out of last season due to health concerns, let Andrews walk, and draft a right tackle.
Thuney has plenty of experience playing center, as he filled in seamlessly for Andrews in 2019 when he missed the entire season with blood clots, so there would be no worries in that regard. Plus, New England has other versatile guys capable of stepping in.
The incoming tackle class is loaded, so the Patriots should have no trouble finding a starting-caliber talent somewhere in the middle rounds to replace Cannon, whose release would free up just over $7 million in cap space. We don’t have to tell you that could end up paying massive dividends in free agency.
And finally, we have the ultimate cutthroat scenario in which New England parts ways with both Andrews and Thuney, and pivots by elevating James Ferentz to the starting center (after re-signing him on the cheap), moving 2020 sixth-round sensation Michael Onwenu to right tackle, adding more depth via the draft, and keeping Cannon around for veteran leadership.
This would obviously be a serious gamble by the Patriots, but it’s worth noting that Ferentz has been a serviceable blocker throughout his career, consistently grading out in the middle of the pack among his peers.
We all know that Onwenu is capable of playing multiple positions at a high level, so he shouldn’t have much of a problem transitioning to tackle from the guard spot. There’s reason to be skeptical about Isaiah Wynn given his proneness to injury, but we like to think he’ll overcome those woes and prove why the front office used a first-round pick on him three years ago.
That pretty much sums it up, folks. Though the first two options would give New England more stability up front, the third scenario would equip them with enough cap space to make multiple marquee signings in free agency.
Nevertheless, with the start of the new league year just two weeks away, the Patriots had better figure out how they plan to sort out their offensive line conundrum this offseason. Based on everything we just had to say about it, there will be no shortage of routes to consider.