Coming off a 2021 season that saw them return to the playoffs but eventually come up short on wild card weekend, the New England Patriots have a long list of to-dos this offseason. One of its items is bringing back players who are scheduled to enter free agency.
There are quite a few of them: all in all, 18 players that were with New England last year are in need of a new contract. Among them is offensive lineman Ted Karras, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 16.
Name: Ted Karras
Jersey number: 67
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6-foot-4, 305 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? Karras originally joined the Patriots as a sixth-round selection in the NFL’s 2016 draft. Despite his draft status, the Illinois product was able to make the team as a rookie and even was pressed into action as a starter in his first ever regular season game: Karras played the 2016 season opener at right guard in place of an injured Shaq Mason. Stepping in for injured starters was Karras’ M.O. during his first four years in New England: while never holding a nominal starting spot, he still started 21 games for the club.
The final 16 of those came in 2019, when he replaced number one center David Andrews following his season-ending blood clots diagnosis. Karras looked solid in this capacity and after the season had the opportunity to return to New England on a new contract. However, he instead decided to take his talents elsewhere to compete for a starting gig. The Miami Dolphins signed him to a one-year deal and he went on to start all 16 of their games during the 2020 campaign.
Karras’ stint with the Dolphins was a short one, however. Just one year after signing in Miami, he left the team again to return to his old stomping grounds: Karras re-signed with the Patriots in free agency and went on to earn a starting spot midway through the season. As a result, his total number of combined regular season and playoff starts now stands at 51. Karras also earned a pair of Super Bowl rings during his first tenure in New England.
What did his 2021 season look like? When it appeared that the Patriots would lose starting center David Andrews in free agency they acted quickly to re-sign Karras, who had spent the 2020 season in Miami, to a one-year, $3 million contract. However, Andrews was eventually brought back as well forcing Karras to serve as a backup yet again — he already was a second-stringer during three of his first four years with the club. As a result, he spent the first three games of 2021 without seeing an offensive snaps.
In Week 4 against Tampa Bay, however, Karras saw his first significant action of the season: he was inserted into the lineup midway through the game, taking over at left guard for starter Michael Onwenu. His 27 snaps that day gave way to back-to-back starts at the right guard position the next two weeks: with regular starter Shaq Mason missing both contests, Karras was asked to fill the void. While a majority of the line was back healthy again by Week 7, the now-former backup remained a part of the starting five.
Karras never looked back and ended the season with 11 straight starts at the left guard spot. As a result, his first season back in New England saw him on the field for 76.6 percent of offensive snaps: despite being a non-factor during the first three games, he played 895 of a possible 1,169 snaps; he posted a playing time share of 86.5 percent after his first start in Week 5. Providing stability between left tackle Isaiah Wynn and center David Andrews, Karras helped the Patriots’ O-line be among the best in the league in 2021.
Availability was not the only positive skill he showed during the season. Karras also delivered one of the best campaigns of his career, looking good as both a run blocker and a pass protector: the Patriots’ running game ranked near the top of the league in most conventional and advanced statistical categories thanks in part due to Karras’ blocking, while he also surrendered only 13 quarterback disruptions throughout the season and helped rookie quarterback Mac Jones make the transition to the pro level.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Karras joined the Patriots on a standard four-year rookie contract and spent the duration of that deal with the team even after it was altered a bit by him getting released at one point in 2017. He then joined the Dolphins on a one-year, $3 million pact before returning to New England on a similar deal with the same length and total value. All in all, Over the Cap estimates Karras’ contractual career earnings at around $8.9 million.
Which teams might be in the running? Quality offensive linemen who have considerable starting experience are a hot commodity, which means that Karras might find a robust market if he is allowed to enter free agency. Among the teams in need of some upgrades on the interior are the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers.
Why should he be expected back? Even though he started 2021 as a backup, Karras earned himself a starting job during the regular season: the Patriots’ coaching staff felt that having him in the lineup gave New England the best possible combination up front. With three of the other four starters under contract for 2022 — LT Isaiah Wynn, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason — keeping Karras in the fold would allow the team to have desirable stability in front of its young franchise quarterback.
Why should he be expected to leave? Two words: Michael Onwenu. Before Karras was inserted into the lineup, Onwenu started at left guard. He obviously lost that role but if New England’s coaches believe that the youngster can step in again without the overall integrity of the starting O-line suffering — something that apparently was an issue in 2021 — there is no real need to re-sign Karras other than having him available as a versatile backup. However, he might be looking for another opportunity at a starting gig.
What is his projected free agency outcome? Keeping Karras would obviously be a positive for the Patriots regardless of what happens with Michael Onwenu: you can never have enough quality players along the offensive line. That said, the Patriots could very well find themselves in a position where they will have to decide between Karras and starting right tackle Trent Brown — two players headed for free agency whose spots were filled by Onwenu at one point during the 2021 season.
If Brown is re-signed, Onwenu would be free to move back to left guard to possibly make Karras expendable. If Brown leaves, however, Onwenu might start at right tackle in 2022 and not be available to fill in at left guard. Keeping Karras over Brown would probably be the cheaper move for the team, but one has to wonder whether a Wynn-Onwenu-Andrews-Mason-Brown lineup is superior to a Wynn-Karras-Andrews-Mason-Onwenu grouping. Time will tell, but we are projecting the Patriots to go with the first of those two this upcoming season.
Will the Patriots re-sign Ted Karras?
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