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Patriots 2021 offseason preview: Major changes could be on the horizon for New England’s interior offensive line

Related: Patriots offseason preview: Has New England found its offensive tackles of the future?

New England Patriots Practice Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

While the NFL playoffs are still underway with fou teams left standing, the New England Patriots are already in the process of turning their attention towards what lies ahead: after not qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2008, the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium — and it will be one of major intrigue considering that the 7-9 squad has a long list of players scheduled to enter free agency once the new league year begins.

With that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time one position after the other. Today, we continue things along the interior offensive line.

David Andrews

Age: 28

Experience: 6

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 17.

2020 review: After missing all of 2019 after the discovery of blood clots in his lungs, David Andrews returned to the Patriots in 2020 and filled his role as the team’s starting center. As such, the veteran started all 12 games he appeared in — he missed three contests because of a broken finger on his right snapping hand and one due to a calf issue — and provided some much-needed stability to an offensive line that had its fair share of issues just one season earlier.

On the field, Andrews looked like his usual self both in the passing and the running game. Off it, he served as a captain yet again and helped maneuver the team through a challenging campaign.

2021 preview: For the first time in his career, Andrews is set to enter free agency this spring. While it remains to be seen what will happen once or if he gets there, the most likely outcome appears to be his return to the team with which he had spent the first six years of his career. Andrews staying in New England appears to be the best outcome for both parties.

James Ferentz

Age: 31

Experience: 7

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 17.

2020 review: Ferentz’s 2020 season started with him on the open market after not getting any free agency love despite appearing in 15 games — including two starts — the previous year. In mid September, however, he rejoined the Patriots via their practice squad and was later promoted to the active roster after Andrews’ finger injury. With the exception of a short trip to the Coronavirus reserve list Ferentz remained there for the remainder of the season and even started two games at center.

2021 preview: Once again headed towards free agency, Ferentz is a candidate to be brought back on a cheap contract. While he is not a starting option, he does offer experienced depth on a group that could see some major changes this offseason.

Marcus Martin

Age: 27

Experience: 7

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 17.

2020 review: After one year out of football, Martin rejoined the NFL in 2020 when the Detroit Lions added him to their practice squad. He ended up playing in two games for the team before his release in December. Shortly thereafter, the Patriots added him to their 53-man squad: Martin appeared in the regular season finale as a depth option with David Andrews inactive, and played one snap on special teams.

2021 preview: Given his recent history in the NFL, Martin will not break the bank in free agency regardless of where he ends up. Could it be New England? Theoretically yes, but there are more attractive options available either through free agency or the draft to bolster the position even if David Andrews and/or James Ferentz are not retained.

Shaq Mason

Age: 27

Experience: 6

Contract status: Under contract through the 2023 season. Mason has a salary cap hit of $9.78 million in 2021.

2020 review: After some ups and downs in 2019, Shaq Mason had another quality season in 2020: David Andrews being available at center for most of the year, and Michael Onwenu playing impressive football at right tackle certainly helped Mason as well — as did some improved health. All in all, he appeared in 13 of New England’s games in 2020 and again looked good in the passing and the running game.

While he did miss two games due to a nagging calf injury, and spent time on the Coronavirus reserve list, the 27-year-old proved himself one of the better right guards in football yet again.

2021 preview: While Mason does carry a hefty salary cap number into the offseason, anything but him being on the team in 2021 would be a major surprise. Not only is he still a very good player, he also offers some stability with his fellow starters along the interior offensive line — left guard Joe Thuney and center David Andrews — both headed towards the open market and thus an uncertain future.

Ross Reynolds

Age: 25

Experience: 2

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season after signing a futures contract with the Patriots.

2020 review: Ross Reynolds started his 2020 season with the San Francisco 49ers, but eventually was let go after being placed to the team’s injured reserve list. He eventually found his way to New England’s practice squad after working out twice with the team, and even was elevated to the game day roster ahead of the season finale versus the New York Jets. Reynolds did not see a single snap during the game, however.

2021 preview: The Patriots signed Reynolds to a futures pact after the season, which allows him to be on the team. That said, his standing on the roster is far from safe given his status as a practice squad player who has yet to appear in an NFL game. Any potential free agency signings or draft additions could change his employment status in New England.

Joe Thuney

Age: 28

Experience: 5

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 17.

2020 review: Joe Thuney continues to be one of the most impressive interior offensive linemen in all of football. After seeing the franchise tag placed on him during the offseason, the former third-round draft pick again entered the season as the Patriots’ starting left guard. As was the case in his first four years with the organization, he ended up appearing in all 16 games while proving himself a strong pass protector and physical run blocker.

Thuney is the complete package at guard, and even showed some versatility along the way: he started two games — Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders and Week 6 against the Denver Broncos — at center. All in all, it was another strong season from the 28-year-old.

2021 preview: While the Patriots did place the franchise tag on him last season to prevent him from hitting the open market, the team and Thuney’s representatives did not reach an agreement on a potential long-term deal since. This means that he is once again scheduled to enter free agency — and there is little doubt that he will make it there this time around. Accordingly, it would not be a surprise to see him reset the guard market.

The question will be whether or not New England will be the team to invest in him, especially with a) David Andrews also in need of a new deal and b) Shaq Mason already commanding top dollar at the guard position. Other teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals may not have the same financial potency as the Patriots this offseason, but they could very well be willing to set a price out of the team’s range.

Najee Toran

Age: 25

Experience: 3

Contract status: Under contract through the 2021 season. Toran has a salary cap hit of $780,000 in 2021.

2020 review: Najee Toran signed a futures pact with the Patriots in January 2020 that allowed him to compete for a backup spot along the team’s interior offensive line. However, that never happened. Instead, Toran decided to exercise the Coronavirus opt-out and spend the entirety of the season on the proverbial sidelines.

2021 preview: Toran’s deal tolled into 2021 when he opted out of the 2020 season, meaning that he is under contract with the Patriots heading into the new year. Given his low cap hit and experience in the system, he likely will get another shot at making the roster this spring and summer even if other offseason moves will bolster the overall depth ahead of him.