While the New England Patriots have seen plenty of personnel turnover through the years, some positions have been comparatively stable. Take quarterback, for example, where future Hall of Famer Tom Brady held down the fort for the majority of the past 18 years. Or placekicker: Adam Vinatieri successfully served as New England’s kicker in the early 2000s, with current Patriot Stephen Gostkowski taking over for him in 2006.
Another spot that has been a model of consistency over the years? Left offensive tackle. From 2001 to 2011, Matt Light serve as Brady’s blindside protector before stepping away and handing the proverbial keys over to Nate Solder. Like Light, Solder helped New England to multiple Super Bowl wins. Unlike Light, however, he did not spend the entirety of his career with the Patriots: Solder left for the New York Giants during 2018’s free agency.
In order to fill the vacant starting position on the left end of the offensive line, New England made multiple investments: the team picked Isaiah Wynn with the 23rd overall selection in the draft, one day before acquiring Trent Brown via trade. And it was Brown to admirably fill Solder’s shoes in 2018 — and become the third starting left tackle after Light and Solder to earn a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots.
In essence, however, Brown was only a one-year rental: New England brought him in on the last year of his rookie contract and he is scheduled hit free agency in March. And like Solder last year, the 25-year old projects to be a highly coveted option if he indeed makes it to the open market. That being said, the Patriots are in no bad position along the offensive line in big part due to one man: the aforementioned Isaiah Wynn.
The Georgia product, of course, spent virtually all of 2018 on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles tendon in just the second preseason game. With him projected to be ready for a return now, however, the team has plenty of flexibility as it relates to its offensive line — and the options are not just limited to plugging Wynn into the left tackle spot in case Brown does leave the club as a free agent. After all, the second-year man is as versatile a lineman as you will find.
Consequently, there appear to be four realistic scenarios on the table:
1. Wynn takes over at left tackle for Brown: This is the most straight-forward move the Patriots could make. If Brown does leave the team next month, Wynn would take over protecting Tom Brady’s blindside alongside an experienced left guard in Joe Thuney. Even though he has yet to appear in an NFL game at left tackle, Wynn brings some experience — a year in New England’s system plus a first-team All-SEC senior season at Georgia — and plenty of upside to the table.
2. Wynn becomes the starting right tackle: While Marcus Cannon has a reasonable salary cap hit of $7.5 million in 2019, New England might opt to prefer saving $4.6 million through a trade or even less likely a release — money that could be used to help fund a potential long-term deal for Brown. If that is the case, Wynn would be the next man up at right tackle after already playing the position during last year’s preseason.
3. Wynn moves to left guard: Granted, this is the least likely of the scenarios but in theory it is possible to see Wynn move to left guard. In order for this to be an option, the Patriots would lose Brown in free agency and decide to move current left guard Joe Thuney — a former offensive tackle at N.C. State — to the end of the line. Wynn, who started at guard at Georgia and also filled the spot while Thuney was absent during last year’s OTAs, would in turn step into the interior role.
4. Wynn stays a backup for now: One thing that might also happen is the Patriots re-signing Brown to keep the left side of the line intact, and deciding to use Wynn as the top backup tackle and possible heir to Marcus Cannon further down the line. This would mostly impact free agent LaAdrian Waddle, who served as New England’s third tackle in 2018.
As can be seen, the Patriots have plenty of options available when it comes to their offensive line heading into the offseason — something made possible by last year’s investment in Wynn. How or when the 22-year old gets back onto the field remains to be seen, but New England should feel good good about the situation it has at its hand even in case Trent Brown is lost through free agency.