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2022 NFL free agency: How will the Patriots replace departed guards Shaq Mason and Ted Karras?

Related: Quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots trading Shaq Mason to the Buccaneers

NFL: SEP 12 Dolphins at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ interior offensive line was a bastion of stability between 2016 and 2020. Center David Andrews and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason were the undisputed top options for most of that five-year stretch, and helped the team win two Super Bowls.

Even after Thuney’s departure in free agency last year, the group appeared set. Andrews and Mason were under contract through 2024 and 2023, respectively, with youngster Michael Onwenu set to take over Thuney’s spot at left guard.

Now, however, the group is facing some major questions. Onwenu lost his starting role four games into the 2021 season; his replacement, Ted Karras, left the Patriots to join the Cincinnati Bengals on a three-year deal earlier this week. Mason, meanwhile, was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday.

The Patriots still have plenty of time to address the interior offensive line, but as of right now only Andrews’ center spot is set in stone. Either guard spot, on the other hand, needs to be properly filled between now and the start of the regular season in September (especially with a young quarterback lining up behind the group). New England does have multiple options to do just that, however.

In-house options

Michael Onwenu: The frontrunner to take over one of the vacant starting spots, Onwenu has played some impressive football ever since the Patriots drafted him in the sixth round in 2020. That said, there are some questions about his outlook given that he failed to keep his spot in the starting lineup last year. Nonetheless, the belief is that he will either be the top option at left or right guard — the latter being the position he played in college.

James Ferentz: New England re-signed Ferentz on Monday, adding some experience to their interior O-line. The 32-year-old has played in 50 career games, including six starts over the last three years. Ferentz is not a starter-level option, but can have some value as a seasoned backup.

William Sherman: The Patriots invested a sixth-round draft pick in Sherman last year, but the Colorado product saw no offensive playing time during his rookie season. That said, the 22-year-old might be a name to watch due to his positional versatility — he can play both guard and tackle — and athletic upside.

Arlington Hambright: A former seventh-round selection by the Chicago Bears, Hambright has started one NFL game so far. He was signed to a futures contract by the Patriots earlier this year and will therefore factor into the mix. Even with the uncertainty higher up on the depth chart, however, he should not be expected to earn a starting spot.

Drew Desjarlais: The fourth overall pick of the 2019 CFL Draft, Desjarlais also joined the Patriots on a futures pact this year. He is projected to be a depth piece but should get some opportunities to prove himself.

Free agency options

Oday Aboushi (UFA): A career journeyman, Aboushi has spent time with seven different teams over the course of his nine seasons in the NFL. Along the way, he started 47 games — including five as a member of the Los Angeles Chargers in 2021. However, a torn ACL ended his season prematurely.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (UFA): Duvernay-Tardif was traded from Kansas City to New York last November and ended up starting seven games for the Jets. He too comes with considerable starting experience but will likely not command top dollar. The 31-year-old will furthermore not count against the compensatory draft picks formula.

Dan Feeney (UFA): Despite only being in the league since 2017, Feeney has started 64 games already — most of them with the Chargers. Last year in New York, however, he spent the majority of the season as a backup. At age 27, the former third-round draft pick might be worth taking a look at, though.

Andrew Norwell (UFA): A former first-team All-Pro, Norwell might be the best guard still available on the open market. The 30-year-old has started 117 games throughout his career in Carolina and Jacksonville, and was particularly successful as a pass blocker in 2021.

Michael Schofield (UFA): Schofield’s ability to play both guard and tackle is intriguing, and would make him a welcome addition to a New England team looking for positional flexibility up front. Even at age 31 and with 107 games under his belt he projects as a potential starting option.

Quinton Spain (UFA): Starting all 20 games for the Super Bowl runner-up Cincinnati Bengals, Spain looked good as a run blocker but had some ups and downs in pass protection. Still, he is one of the better and most experienced options still available on the open market.

Xavier Su’a-Filo (UFA): Su’a-Filo’s stint in Cincinnati was marked by injuries, but he has shown that he can play at a high level in the past. The 31-year-old will likely be looking for another starting opportunity, but he too is not expected to break the bank.

Trai Turner (UFA): With James Daniels headed to Pittsburgh, Turner is likely to leave the Steelers this week. The 28-year-old played some solid football for much of his career, and the 2021 season was no exception even though he was credited with eight sacks surrendered.

Daryl Williams (SFA): After playing both right guard and right tackle for them in 2021, the Buffalo Bills released Williams in a cost-cutting move earlier this week. The 29-year-old will therefore not impact the compensatory draft picks formula if signed by a new team, which would not be the only reason why New England might take a look at him: Williams’ starter-level experience, positional flexibility and qualities as a pass protector are also intriguing.

Draft options

Ed Ingram (LSU): Ingram offers great length and width, and could be used both as a tackle and a guard. He comes with some questions, though, mainly related to his pass protection: he is a patient and developing pass blocker, but a more refined player in the running game.

Darian Kinnard (Kentucky): While Kinnard offers more experience at tackle than guard, he should be able to make the transition to the interior. His hands need to gets better and he would benefit from some time to improve his pass sets, but his build and power are NFL caliber.

Sean Rhyan (UCLA): Ryhan has all the athleticism you would want from a starting-caliber lineman, but his NFL projection is still uncertain. After all, he appears to be a tweener between guard and tackle: he lacks the length to play on the outside but also the power to continuously find success on the interior.

Jamaree Salyer (Georgia): A projected mid-round pick, Salyer could become a starting-level guard at the next level right away. It is not hard to see why. The 6-foot-3, 321-pounder combines good size with fluid movement skills.

Cole Strange (Chattanooga): A projected mid-round pick, Strange needs to add some weight to fill out his 6-foot-5 frame and take the next step in his development. If he is able to do that, he could become a productive player given that he offers a good technical foundation.

Andrew Stueber (Michigan): The Patriots sure love their Michigan Wolverines, and Stueber might become the latest to join them. A big-bodied blocker at 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, he could be used both on the outside or the interior. No matter where he lines up, though, he has the combination of size, power and technical abilities to become an instant starter.

Zion Johnson (Boston College): One of the better interior linemen in this year’s draft, Johnson started every game at Boston College after his transfer from Davidson. A technically refined prospect, he combines a sturdy base with some tremendous fluidity. Johnson projects as a Day 1 starter if picked in his expected range near the end of the first round.

The Patriots will likely not be in a position to select Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green or Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum in April’s draft, but this year’s interior class still offers some good options capable of stepping into a starting role right away. Needless to say, though, that all of the players listed here and available through the draft would present downgrades from both Shaq Mason and Ted Karras.

Accordingly, the Patriots will likely not rely solely on first-year players to fill the void created by the departures of Mason and Karras. While it seems probable that they will invest a mid-round selection to bolster the group and add some young talent that is under control for the next four years, a veteran outside addition would also make sense if the price is right.

At the end of the day, it is obvious that the Patriots have their work cut out for them along the interior offensive line. That said, they have time, resources and a wide variety of candidates available.