Four teams are left standing in the NFL postseason tournament, but the New England Patriots are not among them. They are already in the process of turning their attention towards what lies ahead: the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium after their wild card playoff loss in Buffalo.
It projects to be an interesting one for the Patriots. The team did go 10-7 in the regular season and returned to the playoffs, but it does face plenty of questions after its late-season collapse and with numerous starters in all three phases headed towards free agency. With that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time one position at a time.
Today, we continue at offensive tackle.
Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 16.
2021 review: Coming off a mostly disappointing two-year stint with the Las Vegas Raiders, Brown rejoined New England via trade in March. The one-time Patriot — Brown was the team’s starting left tackle during its 2018 Super Bowl run — was a low-cost investment, with him even restructuring his contract to make a reunion possible.
Brown opened the regular season as the starter on the right side, but seven snaps into the Week 1 matchup with Miami he suffered a calf injury. The veteran would not return to the lineup until Week 10. From that point on, however, he hardly left the field and started New England’s final nine games of the season while once again showing his quality as both a run blocker and a pass protector.
2022 preview: Due to his contract restructure last offseason, Brown is headed for unrestricted free agency this offseason. Naturally that means there is a chance he will leave New England if a financially appealing offer comes along from another club. However, it would not be a surprise if Brown’s experience in Las Vegas and repeated praise for the Patriots organization after his return eventually would lead to him staying put.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Cajuste has a salary cap hit of $1.1 million in 2022.
2021 review: After missing the first two years of his career due to injury, Cajuste finally received a chance to show that he belongs on the Patriots’ roster. Aligning primarily at the right tackle spot and on special teams, the former third-round draft pick saw action in seven games — including two as a starter.
Cajuste did have some positive moments but ended the year as an emergency option: Trent Brown’s return down the stretch and the versatility of second-year man Michael Onwenu led to the team keeping him on the sideline over the final eight games of the season. Along the way, the 25-year-old also had a stint on the Covid-19 reserve list.
2022 preview: Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Cajuste is no lock to make the roster even if Trent Brown leaves in free agency. That being said, he can still be a quality depth option if he is able to build on what was essentially his first year in the league. The physical tools are there, if he can stay healthy.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2023 season. Herron has a salary cap hit of $938,117 in 2022.
2021 review: Herron established himself as New England’s OT3 over the course of his 2020 rookie campaign, and he continued to play a similar role in Year 2. He did see regular action as a result, starting two games on the right side of the offensive line and three on the left — including the Patriots’ playoff game in Buffalo.
Given his status as a backup, his playing time was limited when both Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown were available and the O-line was at its full strength. Nonetheless, Herron ended the season with 457 offensive snaps out of a possible 1,169.
2022 preview: Despite serving as a backup during his first two years in the league, Herron has plenty of experience heading into his third season. This in combination with his low-cost contract makes his outlook for 2022 relatively safe: he will be on the roster, most likely as the next man up at left tackle.
Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Wynn has a salary cap hit of $10.41 million in 2022.
2021 review: Coming off another season that saw him spend considerable time on injured reserve, Wynn resumed his role as the Patriots’ starting left tackle. He had an up-and-down season in this role. Wynn started the year slowly, seemingly struggling to adjust to a new left guard for the first time in his career. With Joe Thuney in Kansas City, he started aligning next to Michael Onwenu.
Onwenu played some good individual football, but Wynn looked noticeably more comfortable when Ted Karras was inserted into the starting lineup in his place. The Wynn-Karras combination remained intact throughout the season, but the former first-round tackle again showed some weakness after the Patriots’ bye week.
All in all, he ended up appearing in 16 out of 18 games. Wynn missed a contest in Houston after testing positive for Covid-19, as well as the postseason game in Buffalo due to hip and ankle injuries.
2022 preview: Before Wynn’s fourth year in the NFL even began, the Patriots already made a decision about his future. They exercised the fifth-year option in his rookie contract, essentially guaranteeing that he will be on the roster in 2022.
That said, his $10.41 million cap hit is sizable for a player with his extensive injury history and uneven performances in 2021. Wynn getting cut seems unlikely given that the option year is fully guaranteed, but if New England wants to get the number down there are two options: trade him or sign him to a contract extension. It would not be a surprise, however, if nothing of the sort happens and he plays out his contract as the starting left tackle.
Either way, Wynn’s long-term future as part of the Patriots is uncertain at this point in time.