While the NFL playoffs are still underway with four teams left standing, the New England Patriots will have to set their sights on the season to come: after being eliminated from the postseason on wild card weekend, the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium — and it will be one of major intrigue considering that the AFC East champions have a long list of players scheduled to enter free agency once the new league year begins on March 18.
With that being said, let’s break down where the team stands at this point in time one position after the other. Today, we continue with the offensive tackle position where the Patriots have five players currently (still) under contract.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Cajuste has a salary cap hit of $840,545 in 2020.
2019 review: The last of the Patriots’ third-round selections last April, Cajuste underwent offseason surgery on an injured quad and was therefore unable to participate in the team’s spring practices. New England later placed him on its non-football injury list and did not activate him before the in-season deadline, meaning that Cajuste ended his rookie year on the sidelines.
2020 preview: While Cajuste missed all of 2019 because of his rehabilitation process, he might play a prominent role along the Patriots’ offensive line next year either as the team’s top swing/backup option or maybe even a starter in case other moves are made atop the depth chart. At this point in time, however, the most important thing is to get the high-upside blocker onto the field again.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Cannon has a salary cap hit of $8.92 million in 2020.
2019 review: While Cannon got better as the year went along, he still had some major inconsistencies along the way as both a run blocker and a pass protector. The veteran, who missed one game because of a shoulder injury but started all other 16 at right tackle, finished the season with a team-high 41 quarterback pressures surrendered.
2020 preview: New England’s front office will have a decision to make about Cannon’s future. His salary cap number of $8.92 million ranks him sixth among the NFL’s right tackles in 2020, while his inconsistent play last year in combination with a lengthy injury history and him getting up there in age might lead to either a contract restructure or maybe even a release or trade. The Patriots could save up to $3.78 million in case they decided to part ways with the 31-year-old — a move that would be somewhat surprising but not unprecedented.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Cunningham has a salary cap hit of $660,000 in 2020.
2019 review: The Patriots sent a sixth-round draft pick to the Arizona Cardinals in late August to get Cunningham on board, but his playing time in 2019 was limited: he was active on game day only twice all season and appeared in only one contest, Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins. The 24-year-old effectively spent the year as New England’s fourth offensive tackle.
2020 preview: Given his comparatively low salary cap number, Cunningham will get a chance to prove his worth in spring and summer and potentially climb up the depth chart. A lot depends on the fate of Marcus Cannon and the development of Yodny Cajuste, however, which means that his future in New England is not secure.
Contract status: Set to enter free unrestricted agency on March 18.
2019 review: After Marcus Cannon hurt his shoulder on opening day, the Patriots decided to bring Newhouse on board as an experienced backup option at right tackle. When starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn was placed on temporary injured reserve one week later, however, the veteran was forced into action on the other side of the line. Newhouse was a weak link up front when in the starting lineup — he surrendered a team-high seven sacks — but the circumstances did him no favor: he joined the team late and was forced in a difficult spot shortly afterwards.
2020 preview: Newhouse is set to enter free agency in mid-March and will likely not command top dollar given his inconsistent 2019 campaign. This means that the Patriots could opt to bring him back as a cheap depth option. However, the best case scenario from the team’s perspective would be to move forward with the younger options already under contract (Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham) regardless of Cannon’s status.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season (plus a fifth-year team option for 2022). Wynn has a salary cap hit of $3.12 million in 2020.
2019 review: Coming off a year-long stint on injured reserve, Wynn started the season as the Patriots’ left tackle. A turf toe injury suffered in Week 2 forced the team to move him to IR yet again, however, even though his time on the sideline was limited this time around: the second-year man returned to the lineup in mid-November and kept his starting spot through the rest of the season. While there were some growing pains after his return, Wynn regularly showed his high-upside as well and made the entire line better.
2020 preview: While his first two seasons in the NFL were cut short by injury, Wynn looked mostly good when on the field and should only get better and more consistent moving forward. His development will obviously be big for the entire offense not just because the Patriots invested a first-round draft choice in him in 2018: with starting left guard Joe Thuney set to enter free agency, steady play from the left tackle should help whoever replaces Thuney in case he leaves New England.
Of course, there is another layer to this situation: Wynn saw considerable action at guard in college and could theoretically fill a vacancy at the position as well. While the Patriots will likely prefer having the 24-year-old on the end of the line, his versatility adds intrigue to the complexion of an offensive line that might be forced to move forward without its most consistent player in 2019.