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Patriots 2021 free agency profile: David Andrews has to be a priority for New England

Related: Cam Newton, Joe Thuney among 34 Patriots scheduled to enter free agency in March

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NFL: OCT 25 49ers at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coming off a disappointing 2020 campaign, the New England Patriots are headed into a pivotal offseason: they need to rebuild a roster that went just 7-9 last year and is in need of some major upgrades across the board. Part of those could be bringing back the players scheduled to enter free agency — and there are quite a few of them.

All in all, 34 players that were with New England in one way last season are in need of a new contract. Among them is center David Andrews, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 17.

Hard facts

Name: David Andrews

Position: Center

Jersey number: 60

Opening day age: 29

Size: 6-foot-3, 300 pounds

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Experience

What is his experience? Andrews originally arrived in the league as an undrafted free agent signing by the Patriots in 2015 — one that went on to see extensive action during his rookie season: with starting center Bryan Stork opening the year on short-term injured reserve, the Georgia product started the first 10 games of the season plus one more later that year and proved his upside as an NFL-caliber lineman. The following offseason, therefore, Andrews and Stork found themselves in an open battle for the starting role.

Andrews ended up winning the job and never looked back. He held down the fort in the middle of New England’s offensive line ever since the 2016 season and along the way has proven himself one of the most reliable interior offensive linemen in pro football: Andrews started 46 of a possible 48 regular season contests over the next three seasons, as well as all nine playoff games — including the Patriots’ Super Bowl victories against the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams to cap the 2016 and 2018 seasons.

While his performances earned him a three-year contract extension after just his first season as the starting center and turned him into a core member of New England’s offense, Andrews was no less impressive off the field. Voted a captain by his teammates in three of the last four years, he established himself as the leader inside the Patriots’ locker room and remained an active part of the team even when he was forced to sit out the 2019 season after blood clots were discovered in his lungs.

What did his 2020 season look like? After having missed all of 2019 because of the aforementioned diagnosis, Andrews announced in late April that he has received medical clearance to return for the 2020 campaign. The veteran lineman therefore went on to participate in New England’s virtual offseason workout program, and also was on the field with the rest of the team when it opened its training camp in early August.

While eight other Patriots decided to opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic, Andrews — despite his recent medical history — did not and therefore reassumed his role as New England’s starting center and the lead communicator up front. As such, he played an integral role in the unit’s success throughout the season, proving his value not just as a run blocker and pass protector, but also a team leader in the locker room.

All in all, Andrews appeared in 12 of a possible 16 games during the regular season. He did miss three contests after undergoing surgery on a fractured thumb on his right snapping hand, and also sat out the season finale due to a calf injury, but generally was his usual reliable self in his first year back. In total, he was on the field for 724 of a possible 1,011 offensive snaps (71.6%), exclusively lining up at center throughout the season.

When on the field, Andrews proved to be an immediate upgrade over the 2019 center group led by Ted Karras. Not only did he surrender just 10 quarterback pressures throughout the season (2 sacks, 1 hits, 8 hurries) despite playing with a new starting quarterback for the first time since Tom Brady’s four-game suspension in early 2016, he also was a major factor in the success the running game enjoyed. With him at the helm, the Patriots’ O-line was one of the best units on the team.

Free agency preview

What is his contract history? When the Patriots signed Andrews as a rookie free agent after the 2015 draft, he put his signature on a standard three-year contract worth a total of $1.6 million. Just two years into the deal — coming off his first campaign as the clear starting center — he agreed to a contract extension through the 2020 season valued at $9 million. All in all, Andrews’ career earnings are estimated at around $10.9 million by Over The Cap.

Which teams might be in the running? If Andrews is not re-signed by the Patriots before the start of free agency on March 17, he likely will be a popular target given his combination of age, championship pedigree, experience and high-quality play. Outside of New England, the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers are all listed as clubs in need of potential help at the center position by Pro Football Focus.

Why should he be expected back? Ever since taking over as the Patriots’ starting center in 2016, Andrews has been a key piece of New England’s offense and general locker room culture. A serviceable center regardless of situation, and one of the most experienced players on the team, the value he provided to the club over the last few years cannot be denied. With the Patriots in search of a new franchise quarterback, having him around as a mentor of sorts should also help with the transition into the future.

Why should he be expected to leave? From the Patriots’ perspective there is little actual reason not to bring Andrews back either before the market opens or shortly thereafter, but there is still a chance another team wows him with a significantly larger contract offer. It should not necessarily be expected to happen, but the possibility still exists in a theoretical setting.

What is his projected free agency outcome? Given his importance to the team and status as a long-standing captain, anything but Andrews re-signing in New England would be a surprise. While the details of a new contract will have to be figured out, a four-year pact with a total value of about $30-32 million seems like a good deal for both parties. Regardless of the final numbers, you probably should not expect Andrews to go anywhere.