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Patriots 2021 free agency preview: Which offensive tackles make sense after the Trent Brown trade?

Related: Patriots free agency preview: New England has multiple options to upgrade at tight end

Cincinnati Bengals v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

In theory, the New England Patriots might have found their offensive tackle pairing of the future: Isaiah Wynn on the left side of the line, and Michael Onwenu on the right. There are plenty of questions surrounding the pairing, however, from Wynn’s extensive injury history to Onwenu’s possible move to the guard position in lieu of potential a Joe Thuney free agency departure.

Add the fact that Trent Brown was just added to the equation via trade and you get plenty of moving parts. As for the upcoming free agency, the Patriots might still be in the market for some veteran reinforcements depending on how dominoes fall elsewhere at the position itself or along the interior of the line (see: Joe Thuney).

Before digging into the free agent options that might be available for the team later this month, let’s first take a closer look at who New England currently has under contract for the 2021 season at the position:

  • Trent Brown
  • Yodny Cajuste
  • Marcus Cannon
  • Korey Cunningham
  • Justin Herron
  • Michael Onwenu
  • Isaiah Wynn

Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown and Michael Onwenu are all starting-caliber offensive linemen and as such expected to fill three of the five spots along New England’s O-line next season. While it remains to be seen where they eventually end up playing, one of the follow-up questions for the Patriots is who will end up as the third tackle. Will it be the veteran Marcus Cannon? One of the youngsters Justin Herron or Yodny Cajuste? The little-used Korey Cunningham? Another acquisition in free agency or on draft day? Time will tell.

One member of New England’s 2020 payroll is furthermore headed for free agency once the market opens on March 17:

  • Jermaine Eluemunor (UFA)

Following Cannon’s Coronavirus opt-out, Eluemunor began the 2020 season as the starting right tackle. An ankle injury in combination with Onwenu’s emergence pushed him down the depth chart, however, even though he performed well pre-injury. Despite Brown being added to the equation, the versatile 26-year-old is a candidate to be brought back in free agency to offer depth at right tackle and along the interior line as well.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at free agent offensive tackles — in case you are wondering the order is alphabetical and nothing else — New England might be interested in adding under the right conditions.

Le’Raven Clark

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 28

2020 team: Indianapolis Colts

2020 statistics: 12 games (3 starts); 10 quarterback pressures given up (1 sacks, 2 hits, 7 hurries)

A former third-round draft pick, Clark has started 15 games over his four years in Indianapolis and aligned on either side of the line as well as the guard position. If Eluemunor leaves in free agency and New England is looking for a replacement with a similar area of expertise — playing the third/swing role and also backing up the interior — the 28-year-old might be a target: he is versatile and experienced.

Clark will also likely be a relatively cheap option after serving primarily as a backup for the Colts and ending 2020 on injured reserve due to an Achilles injury. That injury will likely be a determining factor when it comes to his free agency experience, and how the Patriots view him.

Julién Davenport

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 26

2020 team: Miami Dolphins

2020 statistics: 16 games (1 start); 0 quarterback pressures given up

Julién Davenport is in the same basic boat as Le’Raven Clark. He is a former mid-round draft pick — a fourth-rounder in 2016 — who has some starting experience at both left and right tackle, and will likely be a relatively cheap addition if signed by the Patriots to serve as a swing tackle and possible competition for the likes of Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham and Justin Herron.

Davenport started his NFL career with the Houston Texans before being traded to Miami in 2019. He failed to build on the early success he had with the Texans, however, but has shown that he can play at a starting-caliber level if given an opportunity.

Russell Okung

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 32

2020 team: Carolina Panthers

2020 statistics: 7 games (7 starts); 13 quarterback pressures given up (3 sacks, 1 hits, 9 hurries)

One of the most experienced offensive tackles to enter free agency this year, Russell Okung has started all 145 games he appeared in over the course of his career — including two Super Bowls. Recently, however, the former first-round draft pick has bounced around the league a bit. Ater leaving the Seattle Seahawks in 2016, he has spent time in Denver, Los Angeles and Carolina. Despite that, Okung has been solid when on the field.

That has been a problem for him, though: Okung has missed a combined 19 games over the last two seasons because of injury. While he likely would be relatively cheap, would he be an upgrade over a similar but more expensive player like Marcus Cannon?

Brent Qvale

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 30

2020 team: Houston Texans

2020 statistics: 14 games (3 starts); 5 quarterback pressures given up (1 sacks, 1 hits, 4 hurries)

If the Patriots are looking for a cheap player to serve as a backup and emergency option in case Jermaine Eluemunor is not re-signed and Marcus Cannon gets released — a move that would create net cap savings of $6.3 million — Brent Qvale might be their guy. Despite 18 career starts on his résumé, he is not a starting-caliber player. However, he has experience at tackle and guard and spent the 2020 season in a similar system as New England’s.

Ty Sambrailo

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 29

2020 team: Tennessee Titans

2020 statistics: 10 games (5 starts); 14 quarterback pressures given up (4 sacks, 4 hits, 6 hurries)

A former second-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos, Sambrailo never developed into a full-time starter over the course of his six years in the NFL. That said, he has plenty of quality football on his résumé and could be open to joining a team like the Patriots as a third/swing tackle. Such a move would make sense for the team considering his likely price tag in combination with his versatility to play all positions up front but center.

Rick Wagner

Free agency status: Unrestricted free agent

Opening day age: 31

2020 team: Green Bay Packers

2020 statistics: 18 games (11 starts); 19 quarterback pressures given up (3 sacks, 1 hit, 15 hurries)

Despite coming off a generally solid season in Green Bay, the Packers decided to part ways with Wagner last month. Why would they do that? Salary cap savings ($4.25 million) and his bad performance in the NFC Championship Game may have contributed to the move.

That said, the Patriots could still be interested in obtaining his services. Another mid-tier free agent capable of playing both on the left and the right side of the line, the 31-year-old could give New England a seasoned presence to fill the swing tackle role — and a player that has shown he can play at a starter-caliber level when pressed into action.

Patriots outlook

Trading for Trent Brown gives New England a lot of flexibility up front, and bolsters the group’s depth considering that Michael Onwenu is a likely candidate to move inside to guard in case Joe Thuney leaves via free agency. But even if that and other moves — releasing Marcus Cannon among them — take place, the Patriots do not have a pressing need to bring another offensive tackle via free agency.

If they do, however, they will likely go after cheap yet experienced swing options like the ones listed above rather than the high-priced starters who are available (Trent Williams, Alejandro Villanueva, Sam Tevi, Daryl Williams). That being said, it seems more realistic that the team either lets its current personnel compete for the third and fourth spots behind projected starters Wynn and Brown and at most adds some rookies to the equation.