With less than three weeks to go until they are scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have the league-allowed maximum of 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer — just like we did the last three years as well — we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with New England’s starting left tackle.
Name: Isaiah Wynn
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 76
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6-foot-3, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 + 5th-year option (2022 or 2023 UFA)
What is his experience? Following an impressive four-year career at the University of Georgia — one that saw him start 41 games and line up at both tackle and guard — Wynn entered the NFL draft as one of 2018’s most impressive offensive line prospects. It was therefore no surprise to see him get selected with the 23rd overall pick by a Patriots team that had lost long-time left tackle Nate Solder in free agency just one month earlier. However, it took Wynn some time to eventually fill Solder’s shoes.
After starting his career in New England as a candidate for the number three tackle job behind Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon, a torn Achilles tendon suffered in his preseason debut knocked him out for the entire 2018 campaign. Wynn did return to the field the following training camp but once again was unable to make it through an entire season with a toe injury forcing him to sit out eight games. All in all, the former Bulldog has therefore appeared in just nine of a possible 36 games so far in his pro career.
What did his 2019 season look like? After Brown left New England to sign a record-breaking deal with the then-Oakland Raiders in free agency, Wynn was penciled in as the next man up to fill the Patriots’ left tackle position. While the recovery process from his season-ending Achilles injury forced him to sit out team drills during spring practices and mandatory minicamp, the second-year man was still locked into the top left tackle spot upon his return — one that happened when New England opened its training camp in late July.
Wynn was eased back into the mix at first, but regularly increased his reps before seeing a combined 47 snaps over the course of the Patriots’ preseason slate. When the team opened its season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the starting left tackle made his regular season debut and played all 70 of the team’s offensive snaps. The game would have been a sign of things to come had his Week 2 contest against the Miami Dolphins not come to an end after a mere 12 snaps: Wynn was forced to leave the game in the first quarter due to a toe injury.
The turf toe injury itself was not a major issue, but it still forced the Patriots to move Wynn to their short-term injured reserve list in the week after the game. As a result, he sat out the team’s next eight games before eventually returning to the lineup in Week 12 against the Dallas Cowboys. From that point on, Wynn played his usual role as the team’s left tackle — one that did suffer from some growing pains but finished the season with a 100 percent playing time share over his final seven contests (481 of 481 possible offensive snaps).
Between his first two games and his seven-game stretch to close out the year, Wynn showed why the Patriots had invested a first-round draft choice in him the previous spring: he regularly displayed his flawless technique and showed some immediate growth as both a pass protector and a run blocker. He did surrender 24 quarterback disruptions — four sacks, 11 hits, nine pressures — and was flagged for holding once, but also showed his innate abilities and upside in New England’s offensive system.
What is his projected role? Wynn’s future in New England was very much set in stone the moment he heard his name called in Round One of the NFL’s 2018 draft. The first two years of his career have not changed this despite his injury issues: he is the team’s starting left tackle, and will again fill this role in 2020. While his health remains the biggest question heading into Year Three, under normal circumstances Wynn would rarely leave the field in any given week and play a considerable role within the Patriots’ offensive attack.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots like to use their offensive linemen in the game’s third phase as well, but Wynn has been an exception to this rule over the last two years: no matter if preseason, regular season or playoffs, he has yet to see the field on special teams. Considering that both his predecessors — Nate Solder and Trent Brown — as well as starting right tackle Marcus Cannon all saw/see regular action on field goal and extra point protection units, it seems as if this has to do with Wynn himself (and possibly his injury history). If New England’s coaching staff feels confident in the 24-year-old, however, it would not be a surprise to see him get some looks in the kicking game this season.
Does he have positional versatility? New England used Wynn exclusively at left tackle last season, and it seems as if the team has no plans to employ him elsewhere. That said, he still offers some positional flexibility: he started at both guard and tackle in college, and lined up at right tackle before tearing his Achilles tendon during the 2018 preseason. In theory, Wynn does therefore have versatility — even though it will likely hardly be used.
What is his salary cap situation? Shortly after the Patriots selected Wynn in the draft, the Georgia product signed a standard four-year rookie contract with New England that also includes a fifth-year option for the 2022 season. As part of this deal, he is on the team’s books with a salary cap hit of $3.12 million this year — $1.52 million of which in the form of a fully guaranteed salary. Considering his importance to the Patriots’ offensive operation, Wynn offers some very good value from the team’s economic perspective.
What is his roster outlook? Yes, his recent injury history is concerning. Yes, he did have some downs to go with his ups in 2019. Yes, he does not have prototypical length for an offensive tackle. However, Wynn is still a lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster and is penciled in as the team’s starting left tackle. The main question heading into the upcoming season is therefore unsurprisingly tied to his longevity: Will 2020 be the year when he finally plays a full season and truly establishes himself as New England’s blindside protector of the future?