The New England Patriots currently have 89 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the offseason, we take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with another one of New England’s offensive linemen.
Name: Shaq Mason
Position: Offensive guard
Jersey number: 69
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’1, 310 lbs.
2017 review: One play is all it takes to make or break a player’s and a team’s season. In Shaq Mason’s case this play happened in the fourth quarter of the Patriots’ Super Bowl meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles. Mason let pass rusher Brandon Graham get by him to sack quarterback Tom Brady and force a fumble that was recovered by the Eagles. It was later converted into what was basically a game-sealing touchdown.
Despite ending it on a low note, however, Mason’s 2017 season was a very good one and saw him establish himself as one of the NFL’s best guards. The Georgia Tech product did that by again dominating as a run blocker and further growing as a pass protector: Pro Football Focus’ number four guard finished the year with 5.0 sacks given up, as well as 14 quarterback hits, and one hurry – all significant improvements when compared to 2016.
Of course, Mason also was his typical outstanding self in the running game: not only did he help the Patriots gain 4.3 yards per rushing attempt behind his side, he also showed excellent movement skills as a pull and downfield blocker – one that did not slow down despite seeing more playing time than any of his teammates. Overall, Mason appeared in all 19 of New England’s games last season and missed only three snaps all year long.
The former fourth-round draft pick played 1,136 of 1,139 snaps during the regular season (99.7%) before adding a perfect 221 of 221 in the postseason. And despite playing the majority of those snaps beside backup right tackles Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle, Mason did not skip a beat: he continued his improvement and growth into a reliable, all-around interior offensive lineman for the Patriots.
2018 preview: Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Mason – playing on a comparatively modest salary cap hit of $2.02 million – is a lock to make the team and again serve as its starting right guard. As such, he will once more play close to 100% of New England’s offensive snaps and perform at a Pro Bowl level as an elite road grader in the running game and an up-and-coming protector versus the pass rush.
The main question in 2018 therefore does not concern Mason’s performance – there is little doubt he bounces back from the aforementioned sack he gave up in the Super Bowl – but rather his contractual outlook. Will the Patriots try to lock him up during the season on a long-term deal that might exceed an average annual value of $10 million? Or will they rather wait and let the market dictate like they did with other high-quality free agents before?
While Mason’s long-term outlook is yet to be decided, the one for 2018 already appears to be set in stone: barring injury, the soon-to-be 25-year old will again be one of the NFL’s premier players at his position and a reliable presence along New England’s offensive line. In short: it will be business as usual for Shaq Mason.