The New England Patriots struggled to consistently challenge teams when in possession of the football last season. That had little to do with the performance of the offensive line, however: despite suffering multiple short-term injuries and one opt-out at the starter level the unit was among the best in the league.
Heading into 2021, little is expected to change. While New England did see two of its long-time cornerstones depart during the offseason — left guard Joe Thuney and right tackle Marcus Cannon — the team’s offensive line still has plenty of depth and talent across the board.
One of the group’s projected starters is Trent Brown. The 28-year-old returned to the Patriots earlier this year, with the team acquiring him via trade from the Las Vegas Raiders.
Brown had played right tackle in Las Vegas the last two seasons, and for the San Francisco 49ers from 2015 to 2017. In between, he spent one year in New England and started at left tackle during the club’s 2018 Super Bowl run.
Where Brown will eventually line up this year remains to be seen; the early indication is that he will fill the right tackle spot opposite former first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn. Regardless of where he ends up playing, though, he feels confident in his position group. In fact, Brown set some pretty lofty expectations when speaking to reporters on a conference call during mandatory minicamp earlier this week.
“Whichever side I end up playing on, it really doesn’t even matter to me,” he said.
“I think we have two great guards and, of course, I feel like we have one of the best centers in the league. And then whichever side me and Isaiah play, we have two of the best tackles in the league. I think we’ll get back in the saddle and have one of the best O-lines in the league, if not the best O-line. We just have to keep continuing to put the work in, work on the fundamentals and get back to the basics, and we’ll be just alright. We’ll be just fine.”
Brown was the first domino to fall for the Patriots offensive line this offseason. A short time later they traded Cannon to the Houston Texans and saw Thuney sign a record-breaking deal with the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.
They then reacquired veteran interior offensive lineman Ted Karras after a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins, and finally re-signed starting center David Andrews via a new four-year, $18.9 million contract. Together with guards Shaq Mason and Michael Onwenu, who is projected to replace Thuney in the lineup, the group has plenty of talent within its ranks.
Will it therefore be among the league’s best as Brown claims it can be? That remains to be seen, but the upside that a Wynn-Onwenu-Andrews-Mason-Brown starting line possesses cannot be denied. Add Karras as well as promising second-year tackle Justin Herron as depth options, and you get an offensive line capable of moving bodies in the running game and also keeping pass rushers at bay.
Before that happens, however, more work needs to be done — both by the group as a whole and by Brown individually. He acknowledged that he would have some catching up to do following his two years with the Raiders.
“It’s a bit of a transition getting back to the fundamentals, and also getting back to some of the terminology here,” he said. “But it’s not as hard as it was the first go-around.”
Brown said that he would spend his summer break in Foxborough, trying to get ready for New England’s training camp and his second overall season as a Patriot.