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With David Andrews back in the fold, Patriots offensive line has the makings of an elite unit

Related: Captain David Andrews reportedly returning to Patriots’ offensive line

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

After already losing left guard Joe Thuney earlier in free agency, the New England Patriots were able to keep a second starter along the offensive line from leaving. As first reported on Thursday night, center David Andrews will stay with the Patriots on a new four-year contract.

Andrews’ free agency experience was similar to that of safety Devin McCourty back in 2015. The Patriots allowed the long-time captain to test the open market while keeping an open line of dialogue. Despite that, however, it seemed like a foregone conclusion earlier this week that he would leave the team after six seasons.

Not only did the Patriots re-sign veteran interior lineman Ted Karras after his one-year stint in Miami, wide receiver Julian Edelman even went so far as to post a now-deleted farewell message to social media. However, just like McCourty before him, Andrews eventually decided to return to New England despite already seeming to have one foot out the door.

On paper, the offensive line will therefore remain a strength for the Patriots in 2020. Even with Thuney now playing on a record-setting pact in Kansas City, the projected starting lineup has the makings of an elite unit — all while the addition of Karras gives New England some positional flexibility behind it:

Projected starters

LT Isaiah Wynn, LG Michel Onwenu, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Trent Brown

Andrews returning to the middle of the line means that the majority of the starting lineup from a year ago should stay intact. Shaq Mason is undisputed at right guard and one of the best players in the league at the position, while Isaiah Wynn looked like a top-10 left tackle last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in November.

Wynn’s injury history is a definitive concern after he missed 33 of a possible 52 games during his first three years in the NFL. However, he remains the best option New England has at left tackle even with Trent Brown recently returning via trade from the Las Vegas Raiders. Brown, after all, has the flexibility to play on a high level at the right side as well and could therefore be pegged to fill the spot held primarily by Michael Onwenu last year.

Onwenu, meanwhile, would be free to move back to the interior. While looking very impressive at tackle during his rookie season in 2020, the 23-year-old projects even more favorably on the inside after having spent his entire college career there. His positional versatility is a plus, and gives the team options in case the injury bug bites, but his future seems to be as Thuney’s successor.

All in all, the Patriots’ starter-level line looks impressive. The question is whether or not it will be retained beyond the upcoming season: New England will have to make a decision regarding Wynn’s future — the fifth-year option is still on the table but a call will have to be made until May — while Brown is also playing on just a one-year deal.

Projected backups

C/G Ted Karras, OT Justin Herron, OT Yodny Cajuste, OT Korey Cunningham, G Ross Reynolds, C/G Marcus Martin, G Najree Toran

Karras being brought back to serve as a versatile interior backup certainly addressed a major need for the Patriots, even though his future beyond 2021 is still unclear. Still, having him gives the team an established and experienced depth option.

At tackle, meanwhile, Justin Herron projects as the number three following the trade that sent Marcus Cannon to the Houston Texans. Herron looked serviceable during his rookie season last year, and started on both the left and the right side of the line already. He seems to be the frontrunner to earn the swing tackle role behind Wynn and Brown.

Obviously, a lot can still happen between now and the regular season, but the Patriots’ moves over the last two weeks have allowed them to solidify their offensive line despite losing their best player to the open market. For an offense in the middle of a major rebuild, that is certainly a welcome development.