The New England Patriots haven’t exactly nailed it in the 2022 NFL offseason, as Bill Belichick has seen some big names leave the depth chart and coaching staff. One of the most surprising was Shaq Mason, as his trade prefaced what many consider to be a disappointing offseason.
Mason was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fifth-round pick after a free agency shopping spree in 2021 caused havoc on their cap sheet. The Patriots chose to replace him and Ted Karras by using a first-round selection on Chattanooga guard Cole Strange and moving Michael Onwenu over to right guard.
While going from Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson to Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell at cornerback might be the most headline-grabbing part of New England’s offseason, the change in the offensive line is particularly unsavory. This new-look line could be a detriment to New England’s contention chances.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranked New England’s offseason as the 22nd best out of the 32 teams, with particular ire being drawn to the Mason trade. Perhaps unmoved by Strange’s potential or unconvinced that the Patriots will be able to replace a player of Mason’s caliber, Barnwell went in on Belichick.
Bill Barnwell hated the Patriots trading Shaq Mason.
"“The Pats’ hands were tied by what they did last offseason, but I would have liked to see them find a way to keep Mason,” Barnwell said. “Even if New England thinks Strange will emerge as a superstar, retaining Mason would have allowed the team to keep Mike Onwenu in a utility role.”"
With Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn both significant injury risks, having Onwenu available at multiple spots could be a nice arrow for Belichick to have in his quiver. Getting rid of a proven starter in Mason, making a raw first-round player his replacement, and taking away Onwenu’s versatility is a head-scratcher.
Strange was a dominant player at the FCS level, but there are some serious concerns about his ability to take his gaudy athletic testing numbers and translate them into quality pro production. The Patriots appear to be throwing Strange into the fire at OTAs so far.
Strange could shut down all of this chatter nearly instantly if he comes out and starts to perform at a level commensurate with his draft position.
If he doesn’t, watching Mason compete for a championship in Tampa Bay is going to sting a Patriots fan base that is very skeptical of Belichick’s recent moves.