The New England Patriots have yet to sign an outside free agent this year, but they have already swung a pair of trades. After sending Chase Winovich to Cleveland in exchange for fellow linebacker Mack Wilson, the team is now also trading long-time starting right guard Shaq Mason to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
New England will receive a fifth-round draft choice in return, but the move has a bigger fallout than just the exchange of one player for one pick. So, let’s find out what it means from a Patriots perspective.
The Patriots move on from their best offensive lineman
One day after losing their best defender of the 2021 season, cornerback J.C. Jackson, the Patriots are now also parting ways with arguably their top player on the offensive side of the ball. Coming off another impressive season, Mason was among the best interior offensive linemen in football yet again.
An outstanding run blocker and very good pass protector, he helped New England field one of the most productive running games in football. Furthermore, he surrendered just 16 total quarterback pressures — including a pair of sacks — on his 589 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
Even after seven years of NFL play, Mason was not projected to slow down anytime soon.
New England’s O-line will look a lot different moving forward
Mason has been a staple of the New England offensive line ever since arriving in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. While initially moving between the left and right side, he eventually settled into the right guard spot and turned into as reliable a player as any on the Patriots roster — one who appeared in a combined 116 regular season and playoff games.
Mason was locked into the starting right guard spot heading into 2022 as well, but with him now gone the line faces a major transformation. That is especially true given that incumbent starting left guard Ted Karras left the team to join the Cincinnati Bengals; starting right tackle Trent Brown is a free agent as well and as of yet unaccounted for.
At the moment, therefore, the Patriots’ top offensive line is projected as follows:
- LT Isaiah Wynn
- LG James Ferentz
- C David Andrews
- RG Michael Onwenu
- RT Justin Herron
Only Wynn and Andrews started in their respective spot last year. Onwenu started games at left guard and right tackle, but was sent to the bench in favor of Karras and Brown down the stretch. Herron served as New England’s OT3 the last two seasons, while long-time backup James Ferentz was just re-signed earlier this week.
Obviously, though, the Patriots are not done making moves. But no matter what they decide to do, the line will look a lot different than it has in the past. Add the fact that position coach Carmen Bricillo left the organization earlier this offseason, and the turnover extends beyond the field.
The offensive line becomes a major need
The Patriots found their quarterback of the future in last year’s draft, now it is about building the best possible support system around it. One has to wonder whether or not moving on from Mason is a helpful move to achieve that goal, however.
In turn, the offensive line has now become a major need for the club. Based on the depth chart above, the team has at least two spots in dire need of upgrades: left guard and right tackle. Doing that will be key to New England’s offensive success in 2022, and Jones’ development in his second year in the league.
Moving Mason impacts the Patriots’ cap in 2022 and 2023
Accounting for the NFL’s top-51 rule, the Patriots were able to free up $6.3 million in salary cap space by trading Mason to the Buccaneers while also taking on a $3.15 million dead cap charge. As a result, the team is now $13 million under the cap, according to Miguel Benzan.
The trade does not only impact New England’s payroll this season, but next year’s as well. Mason’s $8.88 million cap hit in 2023 is now off the books entirely.
The Patriots now own seven selections in this year’s draft
With Mason sent to the Buccaneers in exchange for a fifth-round pick, the Patriots can now call themselves the proud owners of seven selections in April’s draft. Those seven picks are distributed as follows:
- Round 1 (21)
- Round 2 (54)
- Round 3
- Round 4
- Round 5 (via Tampa Bay)
- Round 6
- Round 6 (via Los Angeles)
The Patriots’ original fifth-round pick was traded to Las Vegas as part of the Trent Brown deal last year. The extra sixth was added as a result of the move that sent Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams.
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