Nine snaps into his first ever NFL game last week, New England Patriots offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn tore his Achilles tendon. While the team has not made a follow-up transaction after the injury yet, it is expected to place the 23rd selection of this year’s draft on injured reserve soon – effectively ending his rookie season before it even really began. But as tough of a hit this is for Wynn, the Patriots are actually relatively well equipped to deal with it.
After all, New England is rather deep along its offensive line and the tackle position in particular: Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon will be the two starters on the left and right side, respectively, with veteran LaAdrian Waddle as the swing backup option. And even though Cannon is currently nursing an injury of his own, Wynn was not projected to see a lot of regular playing time during his first season in the league.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick knows as well as anybody how vital depth can be not just at offensive tackle but at all positions. This is precisely why he gave a perfect answer when asked about the importance of having multiple offensive tackles on the roster yesterday: “Depth’s like an insurance policy,” Belichick said. “If you never need it, then you don’t need it. If you need it, then you’re glad you have it. You never know where you’re going to need it.”
Over the years, Belichick’s teams have time and again taken advantage of their deep structure and head coach’s knowledge of its importance. Just last year, the team lost multiple starters on offense and defense for extended stretches – from wide receiver Chris Hogan to offensive tackle Marcus Cannon to linebacker Dont’a Hightower – but still managed to win the AFC and come just a few plays short of another Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Without depth players to step in and perform at a serviceable level, New England would not have made it to its eighth Super Bowl in the last 17 years. Having those layers of depth therefore also heavily influences decisions when it comes to roster construction, as Belichick pointed out: “[It] comes into play when you pick your roster. It comes into play when you pick your 46-man and make your decisions on the 46 men that are going to play in the game.”
However, Belichick certainly also seems to be aware of the fact that depth is a volatile thing: “I mean, you can’t have depth everywhere,” the five-time Super Bowl winning head coach added to his answer. “There’s just not enough players in either of those [rosters] to do it, so you have to decide, based on whatever criteria you want to use, where to have it and wherever you have it there’s going to be somewhere where you don’t have it.”
“Every team is facing those same decisions as to where to have it and where you don’t have it,” Belichick continued before specifically talking about the impact injured players can have on those decisions and the overall roster management process. “When you start complicating that with players on other lists or their unavailability or so forth, then that complicates the depth issue even further.”
“But it’s what every team in the league deals with,” added Belichick, whose teams have dealt with those issues better than the 31 others since he became the Patriots’ head coach in 2000. Part of it is having the greatest quarterback of all time under center in Tom Brady, yes, but a big reason also is his ability and willingness to fill the roster with depth players who oftentimes can be trusted to perform well when given the opportunity.
It’s what helps New England not having to worry about a first-round draft pick going on injured reserve. And it’s also what helps New England continue being among the favorites to win the title year-in and year-out.