The New England Patriots have done an outstanding job of building their roster for the 2017 season. ESPN’s Mike Reiss gave the Patriots an A- grade for their offseason, stamping his approval on almost every move other than the decision to not improve their offensive interior line.
“With limited picks in the draft (four), the opportunities weren't plentiful, and it didn't make sense to pay any big free-agent prices for backup insurance policies,” Reiss writes. “So this could still be an area the team addresses as the regular-season approaches, eyeing contingency plans in the event they don't have a repeat of 2016 when starting center David Andrews and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason avoided major injuries and were a consistent presence in helping keep quarterback Tom Brady upright.”
The Patriots have an extraordinarily young interior line with Andrews and Mason entering their third seasons and Thuney and back-up Ted Karras entering their second seasons. The next two players in line are Jamil Douglas (third-year) and Chase Farris (second-year), both of whom spent the 2016 season on the Patriots practice squad.
While the interior line wasn’t perfect in 2016, Andrews and Mason made serious strides in their second years to the point where Andrews could be considered “average” and Mason is “above average.” Thuney was a league-average guard in his rookie season and all three players should be even better with their additional experience in 2017.
Karras backs up all three interior positions and the team believes in his potential, but it is certainly risky to have a 2016 6th round pick serving as the only back-up- and what happens if another 2015-type season takes place and all the linemen go down with various injuries? That would force a player like Cameron Fleming to move to the inside and that’s a pretty bad scenario.
I would expect the Patriots to keep Douglas and Farris on the practice squad and for the team to pay them closer to the league-minimum salary versus the practice squad price. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots waited for a guard to be released by another team in a cap-cutting decision and have them challenge Karras for a job.