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Analysis: What exercising Isaiah Wynn’s fifth-year option means for the Patriots

Related: Patriots reportedly pick up Isaiah Wynn’s fifth-year contract option

NFL: SEP 27 Raiders at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots have had to make two decisions on Monday regarding their first-round selections from the 2018 NFL Draft. Would they pick up the fifth-year contract options for offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn and running back Sony Michel?

In Wynn’s case, the answer is “yes.”

Despite Wynn having played just 19 games over his first three seasons in the league, New England decided to trigger the bonus year in his rookie pact on Monday. What does that move mean for the organization, though? Let’s find out.

Wynn will count a fully-guaranteed $10.4 million against the 2022 cap

As part of the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL and the NFLPA introduced a new system of determining the value of fifth-year options. Players were able to qualify for one of four tiers based on criteria such as playing time and Pro Bowl nominations.

With Wynn never being voted to an all-star game and also missing out on the playing time threshold necessary to qualify for any of the higher tiers, he entered the offseason in Tier 1. As a result, his fifth-year option was valued at $10.413 million. For comparison, had Wynn qualified for Tier 4 status via making more than one Pro Bowl over the first three seasons in the league he would have earned $13.754 million.

The difference is notable, but the fifth-year option still represents a very good payday for the youngster given that all of it is fully guaranteed. Wynn will therefore count $10.413 million against New England’s 2022 salary cap. His 2021 cap number is $3.64 million.

The team feels comfortable in his medicals

As noted above, Wynn has missed considerable playing time over the course of his career because of injury. He tore his Achilles tendon only a few snaps into his first ever preseason game back in 2018 and had to sit out his entire rookie season as a result. The following year, he suffered a turf toe injury in Week 2 and had to sit out eight games. Last season, meanwhile, Wynn hurt his knee in late November and was sent to injured reserve again.

Three NFL seasons, three trips to IR. As a result, the Georgia product has appeared in just 19 out of a possible 52 regular season and playoff games.

And yet, it seems as if the Patriots feel good about his medical outlook.

There actually is some reason to be confident, even though his injury résumé since arriving in the NFL is a considerable one. Wynn, after all, missed only one of 41 possible starts over his final three years in college and does not have any long-standing issues. His injuries at the pro level all fall under the “freak accident” category, and the organization seems to agree by still giving him the option for 2022.

This likely also means that the knee injury that kept him out of the final six games last season is not considered a major issue moving forward. The Patriots likely would have been more hesitant picking up the option had the ailment caused Wynn some additional problems heading into preparations for 2021.

At least one starting tackle is under contract beyond 2021

With Wynn’s option tagged onto his rookie contract, the Patriots have their starting left tackle under team contract through at least the 2022 season now. This is good news for the stability of an offensive line that also features an interior group locked up at least until the 2023 free agency period.

The only major question mark beyond the upcoming season, meanwhile, is starting right tackle Trent Brown. The 28-year-old was reacquired via trade from the Las Vegas Raiders earlier this offseason and as part of the transaction modified his contract. He will therefore now enter unrestricted free agency next spring.

In general, New England’s projected starters up front are now signed as follows (with the reserves tagged further below):

  • LT Isaiah Wynn: 2022 (2023 UFA)
  • LG Michael Onwenu: 2023 (2024 UFA)
  • C David Andrews: 2024 (2025 UFA)
  • RG Shaq Mason: 2023 (2024 UFA)
  • RT Trent Brown: 2021 (2022 UFA)

Reserves: C Ted Karras: 2021 (2022 UFA); OT Korey Cunningham: 2021 (2022 UFA); G Marcus Martin: 2021 (2022 UFA); G Najee Toran: 2021 (2022 ERFA); OT Yodny Cajuste: 2022 (2023 UFA); OT Justin Herron: 2023 (2024 UFA); OT William Sherman: 2024 (2025 UFA)

As can be seen, the Patriots’ starting lineup is in good contractual shape for the immediate future. Adding one year of team control to Wynn’s deal further strengthens this outlook, and creates some stability at the offensive tackle position in case Brown leaves in unrestricted free agency next year.

New England’s recent first-round hit rate is still not great

The NFL introduced the rookie wage scale in 2011, and the Patriots have drafted nine players in the first round since then. While no decisions about contract options have yet to be made about wide receiver N’Keal Harry (2019) and quarterback Mac Jones (2021), only four of the other seven players saw their fifth-year options exercised: Nate Solder (2011), Chandler Jones (2012), Dont’a Hightower (2012) and now Isaiah Wynn (2018).

With Harry seemingly on his way to make the Patriots go just 4-of-8 on fifth-year options next spring, New England cannot be pleased with its recent first-round draft performance. Dominque Easley (2014), Malcom Brown (2015) and Sony Michel (2018) did not turn out the way the team probably hoped they would; add three years without first-round selections (2013, 2016-17) and you can see why the output was below expectation recently.

All that being said that is the price of success to a certain degree: New England has consistently been drafting in the low 20s or early 30s over the past decade. Since 2011, only Nate Solder and Mac Jones have been drafted in the teens. Solder became the first Patriot to receive the fifth-year option, while the Patriots better hope that their quarterback investment from a few days ago will walk the same route one day.