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Patriots free agency outlook: New England’s offensive line could look a lot different in 2020

Related: Patriots free agency outlook: New England needs to re-tool its tight end group

New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ 2019 season came to a premature end when the team was eliminated in the wild card round of the playoffs. In order to return to the top of the NFL mountain, the organization will therefore have to turn the page and build a competitive roster to get back into a position again to compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. A big part of building that roster is successfully maneuvering through free agency.

If judged by the list of free agents to be, New England’s front office will be busy over the next few days before the new league year and free agency are officially kicked off on March 18. Also over the next few days, we will take a look at each individual position on the Patriots’ current roster to find out which players are headed for the open market, whether or not they should be expected back, and who might be brought in from the outside.

Today, the series continues with the offensive line positions.

Current position group

Under contract: Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Hjalte Froholdt, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham, Najee Toran

Free agents: Joe Thuney (UFA), Ted Karras (UFA), Marshall Newhouse (UFA), James Ferentz (UFA), Jermaine Eluemunor (RFA)

Free agency profile: Joe Thuney

Opening day age: 27

2019 salary cap hit: $2.22 million

2019 statistics: 17 games; 18 quarterback pressures surrendered (1.0 sack, 11 hits, 6 hurries)

Experience: New England drafted Thuney in the third round of the 2016 draft and he immediately became the team’s starter at left guard — a role he held throughout his tenure with the team. Along the way, he improved every single season and also proved himself one of the most durable players in all of football: Thuney started 74 of a possible 74 games, and rarely left the field. At one point between Week 13 of the 2017 season and Week 2 of the 2019 season he played 2,004 consecutive offensive snaps.

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 18.

While a lot can change over the next week, Thuney seems to be on his way to become one of the highest paid guards in all of football. While the question is whether or not the money will come from the Patriots or another team, New England investing considerable resources in the 27-year-old would be somewhat surprising. After all, quarterback Tom Brady is one of the other 18 players headed for unrestricted free agency, and the team already has right guard Shaq Mason on its books with a $8.8 million cap hit in 2020.

Furthermore, the development and potential of Hjalte Froholdt and/or Jermaine Eluemunor might also have an impact on how the team approaches Thuney’s free agency. Add all this up, and the Patriots losing their four-year starter next week seems like the safest bet — and one that should net New England a third-round compensatory draft pick in 2021.

Free agency profile: Ted Karras

Opening day age: 27

2019 salary cap hit: $720,000

2019 statistics: 16 games; 12 quarterback pressures surrendered (1.0 sack, 5 hits, 6 hurries); 3 penalties

Experience: Karras joined the Patriots as a sixth-round draft pick in 2016, and for the first three years of his career served as a versatile depth option along the team’s interior offensive line. In 2019, however, he was elevated to a starting role after center David Andrews was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs and subsequently placed on season-ending injured reserve. Karras started 16 games in place of Andrews — missing one because of a sprained MCL — and while a downgrade did an admirable job.

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 18.

The fate of starting left guard Joe Thuney might also have an impact on Karras and his trip to free agency. While there is a chance he receives a starting contract from another team and leaves Foxborough — reports from the combine suggested that he might command up to $10 million annually, but they should be taken with a grain of salt — the Patriots could also opt to bring him back as the heir to Thuney’s position.

In the unlikely case that the Patriots re-sign Thuney to a hefty contract or if other teams drive up the price, however, it seems unrealistic to expect the team to remain competitive for Karras’ services. This holds especially true with Andrews apparently well on his way to return in 2020 and other developmental options (Hjalte Froholdt, Jermaine Eluemunor) waiting in the wings.

Free agency profile: Marshall Newhouse

Opening day age: 31

2019 salary cap hit: $607,059

2019 statistics: 16 games; 30 quarterback pressures surrendered (7.0 sacks, 13 hits, 10 hurries); 3 penalties

Experience: Between getting selected in the fifth-round of the 2010 draft and joining the Patriots as a free agency signing in early September of last year, Newhouse spent time with seven different teams. While his experience cannot be denied, his staying power is reflective of the fact that he has struggled to carve out clear roles on teams beyond any rotational duty. Despite that, however, New England had to insert him into their starting lineup after temporarily losing left tackle Isaiah Wynn to turf toe. Newhouse was a weak link up front but the circumstances did him no favors: he joined the team late and was forced in a difficult spot shortly afterwards.

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 18.

Given his inconsistent 2019 campaign in combination with his age, teams will likely not line up to bring Newhouse on board. As a result, the Patriots might be able to bring him back as a cheap depth option after the first waves of free agency have died down a bit. That being said, the ideal scenario from the team’s perspective would likely be to move forward with the younger options already under contract as depth behind starters Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon — unless the Patriots feel that neither Yodny Cajuste nor Korey Cunningham will be ready to fill the number three/swing tackle role in 2020.

Free agency profile: James Ferentz

Opening day age: 31

2019 salary cap hit: $720,000

2019 statistics: 16 games; 11 quarterback pressures surrendered (1.0 sack, 2 hits, 8 hurries)

Experience: Ferentz entered the NFL as an undrafted free agency pickup by the Houston Texans in 2014 and spent two seasons with the team before joining the Denver Broncos. While he won a Super Bowl in Denver as a backup along the interior offensive line, the Iowa product failed to carve out a bigger role and was ultimately released again in 2017. Ferentz was then signed by the Patriots and served as a depth player for the next three seasons — including 2019, when he made the first two starts of his career.

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 18.

Given that he can fill all three positions along the interior offensive line and the fact that he likely will not command an expensive new contract, it would not be surprising if New England opted to re-sign Ferentz to offer depth with both Thuney and Karras as potential free agency departures. While the team might prefer to invest in younger players with more upside, having experienced backup options such as the 30-year-old certainly is valuable — something the Patriots found out first-hand in 2019.

Free agency profile: Jermaine Eluemunor

Opening day age: 25

2019 salary cap hit: $645,000

2019 statistics: 10 games

Experience: Eluemunor spent two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens after the team drafted him in the fifth-round back in 2017. However, in late August, the Patriots brought him and a sixth-round selection on board in exchange for a fourth-round selection. Despite the investment, Eluemunor saw only limited playing time in 2019 and was on the field for more snaps on special teams (38) than on offense (29) while serving as an emergency depth option.

Contract status: Set to enter restricted agency on March 18.

As a restricted free agent, Eluemunor can be tendered at one of three levels by the Patriots: the first-round tender worth an estimated $4.7 million, the $3.3 million second-round tender or the $2.1 million original round tender. In case another team then signs the 25-year-old to an offer sheet, New England would have five days to match or receive the draft pick appropriate for the tender as compensation.

Given his status as a depth player in 2019 and the details of the trade that brought him on board in the first place, it would not be a surprise if the Patriots opted to go with the original round tender — Eluemunor was a fifth-round draft pick — or maybe not even tender him at all. A lot, of course, might depend on how other pieces will fall into place during the NFL’s legal tampering period ahead of the start of free agency.

Outside free agents

Austin Blythe, Los Angeles Rams (UFA): Blythe is a former seventh-round draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts that developed into a starter after joining the Rams in 2017. The 27-year-old has the versatility to play both guard and center — starting seven and eight games, respectively, at the two positions — and is a serviceable run blocker and pass protector.

Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans (UFA): A four-year starter at right tackle for Tennessee, Conklin is arguably the best player at his position to enter free agency this year due to his combination of youth and all-around solid blocking. While not the stalwart the Titans likely hoped he would become, the former first-round draft pick developed well and is a plug-and-play starter.

Graham Glasgow, Detroit Lions (UFA): Detroit’s starting center has experience at left guard as well, and could be a comparatively cheap replacement option should the Patriots lose both Thuney and Karras in free agency. While not the most consistent or high-upside player, Glasgow is a serviceable blocker.

Connor McGovern, Denver Broncos (UFA): While primarily used at center in Denver, McGovern projects to perform well at guard as well — and maybe even better, even though he surrendered just one sack in 2019. The 26-year-old certainly brings intriguing upside to the table and should not break the bank despite his experience and solid all-around performance last year.

Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins (UFA): Thuney and Scherff are the 1A and 1B at the guard position in this year’s free agency, with both likely to receive sizable deals. The Patriots will likely not be in the running for his services, but they will keep a close eye on how his market develops in relation to Thuney’s — both in terms of potential negotiations and compensatory draft pick implications.

Greg Van Roten, Carolina Panthers (UFA): While not the biggest of names available, the 29-year-old brings plenty of experience to the table and has proven himself a solid blocker up front who is better as a pass protector but also serviceable as a road grader in the running game. As such, he would be capable of filling a starting spot if need be but could also serve as a versatile interior backup.

Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams (UFA): Despite being 38 years old, Whitworth is expected to continue his career in 2020. An experienced player who is still able to perform at a high level, the long-time Bengal will likely return to Los Angeles but could test the market if the team is unwilling (or rather unable) to commit financially — a case in which New England might give him a look as a challenger to Cannon’s services.


The Patriots are likely to lose at least one member of their starting offensive line from a year ago in free agency (Joe Thuney), with a second possibly following if a team with more financial wiggle room enters the bidding (Ted Karras). Furthermore, New England’s third offensive tackle and part-time starter (Marshall Newhouse) as well as 2019’s primary interior backup (James Ferentz) are also headed for the open market and no locks to return. Needless to say that the Patriots are facing plenty of questions up front in an offseason that also saw the retirement of long-time assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia.

Despite the potential turnover, however, the Patriots should not be expected to become big spenders at the various O-line positions. After all, they do have developmental depth at all spots: Yodny Cajuste could fill the vacant third tackle spot, with Hjalte Froholdt and Jermaine Eluemunor as potential starters or backup options along the interior. New England might bring more seasoned players in, but likely none of the biggest names in free agency.