Just a few days after re-acquiring tackle Trent Brown via a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders, the New England Patriots have made another deal changing the composition along their offensive line: New England will send veteran tackle Marcus Cannon to the Houston Texans for a pick swap in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds of this year’s draft.
The move will not only net the Patriots some better draft position and free up $6.28 million in salary cap space, it also weakens the depth at a position that has already seen some turnover due to the Brown trade. With that being said, let’s break down the offensive line to see how it looks following Cannon’s departure.
Trent Brown, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham, Justin Herron, Isaiah Wynn
Even though he sat out the 2020 season due to concerns over the Coronavirus pandemic, Marcus Cannon was clearly the most experienced offensive tackle on the Patriots’ roster. With him gone, the unit has therefore lost a veteran leader as well as an additional layer of depth: Cannon was a starter before last year’s opt-out and very much expected to compete for his former job again heading into the offseason.
The Patriots acquiring Brown and Cannon himself not reporting back for a physical earlier this offseason, however, paved the way from him being moved. With Brown and Wynn projected as the starters at the two tackle positions, the depth is now down to three youngsters: former third-round draft pick Yodny Cajuste, former trade acquisition Korey Cunningham, and second-year man Justin Herron.
Cajuste may have the most upside, but he missed both of his first two years in the NFL due to injury. Cunningham, meanwhile, was little more than an emergency option ever since joining the Patriots early during the 2019 season. This leaves Herron as the likely frontrunner for the OT3 spot at the moment after the sixth-rounder played 34.7 percent of offensive snaps during his rookie season. Nonetheless, New England adding more depth via the draft or free agency would not be a surprise at all.
Interior offensive linemen
Marcus Martin, Shaq Mason, Michael Onwenu, Najee Toran, Ross Reynolds
Michael Onwenu spent the majority his 2020 rookie season at the right tackle position and looked impressive, but the projection is that he will be moved back to the interior in case New England loses starting left guard Joe Thuney in free agency. Onwenu, after all, spent his entire college career at guard and might have even more upside at the position compared to the offensive tackle spot.
Pairing Onwenu with returning starting right guard Shaq Mason would give the Patriots a strong starter group at the position, but the depth behind them will likely still need to be addressed. Marcus Martin, Najee Toran and Ross Reynolds are all unproven in the team’s system, meaning that New England could very well invest in more depth along its interior O-line in the coming days or weeks.
David Andrews (UFA), Jermaine Eluemunor (UFA), James Ferentz (UFA) Joe Thuney (UFA)
Joe Thuney could very well become the highest paid guard in football this year, and a return to New England seems increasingly unlikely given the Trent Brown trade. With him in the fold to man one of the starting tackle spots, the Patriots, as noted above, might very well move Onwenu to the inside to fill the position Thuney held for the last five seasons. Cannon being traded to Houston should not change any of those plans.
As for Andrews, Eluemunor and Ferentz, they are more realistic candidates to be brought back. While Eluemunor’s odds took a hit with Brown being added, Andrews is a priority to be re-signed: the long-time starting center is a team captain and one of the most consistent players on an offensive line that might look quite different in 2021 compared to last season. Keeping him in the fold would ensure some level of stability.
The same goes for James Ferentz. While not a starting-level player in the NFL, he has proven himself a serviceable backup capable of moving up into the lineup on short notice. If the Patriots want to raise the current group’s floor — especially with Andrews no lock to return — re-signing the 31-year-old to offer as depth along the interior line would be a solid plan.
All in all, the Marcus Cannon trade does not have too big an impact on the Patriots’ offensive line given his uncertain future in the organization to begin with. What it does, though, is free up resources while simultaneously also reinforcing the thought that New England will need to look at the offensive tackle position in free agency or the draft.