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2021 Patriots positional preview: Offensive line

Related: Patriots positional preview: Tight ends

New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The potential for this iteration of the New England Patriots offensive line is limitless. The group that heads into training camp consists of multiple long-time team leaders, multiple returning starters, multiple breakout sophomore players, and numerous high-ceiling players that we have yet to see on an NFL football field.

It doesn’t get more exciting than that, especially for a team that has a clear identity headed into the 2021 season: the Patriots should be running the ball a lot this year. The sheer mass of humanity that they can line up on the goal line is outrageous.

Matching Cam Newton’s propensity to pick up yardage on the ground with the breakout performances (yards per carry wise) from Sony Michel and Damien Harris, and the top end talent on the offensive line. This group should see plenty of opportunities to maul in the trenches, and influence the success of the team.

Now more than ever, the offensive line is the lifeblood of the Patriots offense.

David Andrews

After Julian Edelman wished the big man good luck elsewhere via his Instagram story and Ted Karras coming back, everyone in New England thought the Patriots captain was taking his talents somewhere else. However, after Andrews tested the waters, he was able to iron something out and return to the Patriots on a four-year, $19 million dollar deal.

Andrews is not only important due to his leadership skills and presence inside the Patriots locker room, but he is has been the anchor of their strong offensive line for the last six seasons. When he was forced to miss the 2019 season due to blood clots, the Patriots offensive line struggled mightily to protect Tom Brady and ended up being the team's Achilles heel all season long. Andrews is everything the Patriots represent and arguably the most important player on the offensive side of the ball.

Michael Onwenu

What a difference a year makes. At this time last season, Michael Onwenu was viewed by many as a heavy developmental prospect, who would need lots of work to stick on the active game day roster. One breakout year later, he’ll be tasked with taking over for a former All-Pro in Joe Thuney.

To live up to the standards set by Thuney, Onwenu will not only need to play at a high level at left guard, but will likely take over the swing duties along the starting unit. Thuney played at least 50 snaps at all five O-line positions in his time as a Patriot, serving as the fill in man for whenever a fellow lineman would go down. Last year, he had a partner in doing so, as Onwenu got starts at both guard spots as well as right tackle. With Thuney off to Kansas City, Onwenu is now the top option.

Michael Onwenu made a phenomenal first impression in year one, making a name for himself in the NFL. If he’s able to take another step, he’ll put the entire league on notice.

Shaq Mason

One of the most underrated players on the Patriots, Shaq Mason is the one that gets everything going up front for the Patriots. Mason’s ability to pull in the run game and bully guys on the outside as well as consistently keeping things clean in pass protection make him imperative to the Patriots success.

The third-ranked guard in all of football last year per Pro Football Focus, Mason will look to man the right side of the line with Trent Brown back into the fold while Michael Onwenu and Isaiah Wynn man the left side. Mason leads one of the best offensive line units in all of football and will look to continue to do just that.

Isaiah Wynn

As is the case with a number of players on the Patriots roster, there is a divide in terms of how Isaiah Wynn is viewed by the fans. The cynical side of the fanbase yearn for a more reliable option at left tackle, and have no qualms with touting Wynn’s rich injury history, as he has suited up for just 19 of a possible 52 games. The more optimistic side acknowledges just how valuable he has been to the team’s success when he can find his way onto the field. The Patriots have taken the more optimistic approach with Wynn this offseason, picking up his $10 million option for the 2022 season.

There is one simple factor that will play into how the Patriots decision is viewed, Wynn needs to stay on the field. If he does, New England and its fans will be very happy. If he can’t, that $10M could loom large over their heads.

While he holds down the left side of the line, the man that filled in for him (quite well) in 2018, will play opposite him on the right side. Perhaps serving as a top of the line insurance policy.

Trent Brown

Life after New England has been rough for Trent Brown as he played in just under 900 snaps in Las Vegas after inking a four year, $66 million dollar contract with the Raiders after the 2018 season. Brown has had injury and weight issues ever since leaving New England but seems happy and motivated to be back in New England for his second go around.

Brown, who started all games at left tackle for the Patriots in 2018, will presumably move over to the right side where he’s seen most of his starts throughout his career. Brown re-structured his contract in New England to just one year, $9 million so if the talented tackle wants to earn another big pay-day, he’ll need to show the same level of play we saw in 2018. Brown is important to the Patriots offensive line but if he were to miss time, the Patriots have plenty of depth in swing tackle Justin Herron.

Ted Karras

It was no secret the Patriots lacked depth up front all last season. After a year-long hiatus to Miami, Ted Karras returns to New England as a depth offensive lineman who can contribute at both guard spots as well as center. When the Patriots brought back Karras, everyone (including players) assumed it was the end of David Andrews in New England.

However, Karras now serves as a key depth piece for the Patriots and someone who started every game at center when Andrews missed the 2019 season. Karras is someone who has played a lot of meaningful snaps for the Patriots over the years and will have occasional spot starts and contribute all over the offensive line when asked.

Justin Herron

If it wasn’t for Michael Onwenu’s surprising All-Pro-type rookie season, a lot more people would be talking about the other sixth-round pick’s strong 2020 season. There were certainly some tough moments for Herron in 2020 but overall, given where he was drafted and the role he was given after Isaiah Wynn’s injury, Herron stepped in nicely as a swing tackle for the Patriots. In 2021, with Trent Brown back into the mix and William Sherman added via the draft, Herron will likely be one of the swing tackles for the Patriots and contribute in a depth role for the team going forward.

William Sherman

William Sherman was taken with a late-round pick, is expected to compete for a swing role, and his best attributes come in the form of his raw power and body control. Sound familiar? Well it should because that is exactly what could have been said about Michael Onwenu last season.

Now we are by no means expecting the same All-Pro-level season that we saw from Onwenu in 2020, but Sherman being cut from a similar cloth certainly is encouraging. He will see plenty of time at guard and tackle in training camp, and being able to prove that he can hold things down at multiple spots may be exactly what the doctor ordered for him to stick on the 53-man roster.

Yodny Cajuste

Can we get a wellness check on Yodny Cajuste? The 2019, third-round pick has done absolutely nothing in his two seasons as a Patriot thanks to a few leg injuries. Now he has an uphill battle to even be considered for a spot on the practice squad.

The original goal for Cajuste was to have him take over at right tackle for Marcus Cannon. Now the Patriots have Trent Brown cemented into that spot, with Justin Herron and Michael Onwenu both serving as options to play over Cajuste.

With a strong preseason showing, Cajuste could certainly prove that he has some worth on the practice squad as an emergency option. Without one, it’s likely the Patriots just decide to cut ties.

James Ferentz

Back in New England for a fifth season, James Ferentz has been an ultra reliable back-up plan to the back-up plans. His penchant for finding his way on and off the roster is slowly reaching Ross Ventrone levels, as the 32-year-old has been signed, promoted, or released 13 different times since May 2017. Whether he will be able to slow that number down a bit, it shouldn’t be counted upon.

The Patriots decision to sign two starting-caliber centers, one of which can play all three interior positions, made Ferentz’s already tough road even tougher. That’s not to say that it’s impossible for him to find a spot, after all he is well versed in the offense and New England is well known for keeping the best players on their offensive line, no matter their position.

Marcus Martin

A former third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, Martin’s career has had it’s ups and downs. From San Francisco to Detroit with stops in Cleveland, Dallas, and Seattle, it seems that each time he was able to crack the starting lineup, there was an injury to set him back.

Now he’s in New England for perhaps his last shot to make a team. It’s unlikely but not impossible that he finds himself on an active roster this season, just don’t count on it.

Alex Redmond

In a similar situation to that of Martin, Alex Redmond has played well when he’s found himself on the field, but a couple of injuries and failure of a performance enhancing drug test have derailed momentum.

The Patriots have a solid group of interior players so Redmond, along with Marcus Martin and the last man on our list, look like they’ll just be camp bodies if everyone stays healthy.

R.J. Prince

Signing just earlier this month, Prince was brought in to fill out an extremely competitive roster. His presence is that of a man that will be used to fill in for others during camp. A long climb to the active roster.

Korey Cunningham

A former seventh-round pick in 2018, Cunningham has played in just 12 games the last two seasons after joining the team halfway through 2019. Cunningham will likely head to the practice squad after camp and compete for a depth spot along the Patriots offensive line.

What does the future look like at center?

In a word, set. David Andrews has been one of the most reliable, and respected players on the Patriots roster since his arrival in 2015, and he is signed on for four more seasons. The three-time captain will lead the offensive line into the 2024 season. Oh yeah, his top reserve Ted Karras is back for another go-around in New England.

What does the future look like at guard?

After Michael Onwenu’s strong rookie season, there was a lot of uncertainty of where he’d play in 2021. He was solid at right tackle but more natural at guard and with Joe Thuney heading to Kansas City, the Patriots are set at guard with Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason for the foreseeable future.

What does the future look like at tackle?

There’s a ton of uncertainty surrounding both Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown after the 2021 season. Despite the Patriots picking up Wynn’s fifth-year option, although injuries have derailed him throughout his time in New England, he has been one of the better tackles in the league when on the field. Wynn will likely play next year on his fifth year option because the price is relatively cheap for a starting left tackle but after the 2022 season, it is unknown which direction the Patriots will go.

As for Trent Brown, he was one of the key pieces in the Patriots 2018 Super Bowl run but wasn’t able to reciprocate that success in Oakland after signing his big deal. Brown seems happy and motivated to be back in New England but on a one year deal, Brown’s future in New England and in the league will solely depend on how he performs this season.

What should the 8-man unit look like?

Health is a major factor in this exercise so bear with us.

The starting unit looks like it will be set up to look like this: Wynn-Onwenu-Andrews-Mason-Brown. Ted Karras will serve as the top interior reserve player, and Justin Herron showed to be a more than serviceable swing tackle. To exploit the new roster rules, they’ll likely carry one more player on the offensive front. Our bet? William Sherman.