Despite dealing with multiple injuries as well as the opt-out of starting right tackle Marcus Cannon, the New England Patriots fielded one of the best offensive lines in the NFL in 2020. The subsequent offseason still saw them make some changes, though: the team reacquired Trent Brown via trade and also moved on from Cannon; it also added William Sherman on the third day of the draft.
The Patriots entered the 2021 season with Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown filling the two tackle spots. While Brown missed some time due to a calf injury, the duo was undisputed in its standing atop the position depth chart. Heading towards free agency, however, only one of them is under contract:
- Isaiah Wynn
- Justin Herron
- Yodny Cajuste
- Yasir Durant
- Michael Onwenu*
- William Sherman*
Despite showing some ups and downs last year, Wynn keeping his job on the left end of the line in 2022 seems likely. The team has no proven starter-level talent on the roster outside of him, after all, and would be hesitant to let a rookie take over this crucial a position.
Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste and Yasir Durant, meanwhile, spent last season as depth options. All three of them started games in 2021, but they should not be expected to suddenly be elevated in case Trent Brown leaves via free agency. Instead, the team might turn to guard/tackle hybrid Michael Onwenu: Onwenu started the season at left guard but was later moved to right tackle when Brown was out injured.
Speaking of Brown, he is the lone member of the Patriots’ offensive tackle group headed for the open market this year:
- Trent Brown: Unrestricted free agent | Free agency profile
Brown opened the regular season as the starter on the right side, but seven snaps into the Week 1 matchup with Miami suffered a calf injury that kept him out until Week 10. Following his return, 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.
Retaining Brown will likely be high up on the Patriots’ free agency wish list. If they are unable or unwilling to do that, however, the open market does offer some potential replacement candidates — even with a) Kansas City’s Orlando Brown receiving the franchise tag, and b) New England having only limited resources available at the moment.
Dennis Kelly (UFA): Originally a depth option, Kelly started the final five games of the Green Bay Packers’ season last year. Generally performing well at his right tackle spot, the 32-year-old offers plenty of experience at what will likely be a low cost.
Cornelius Lucas (UFA): Lucas started seven games at right tackle for Washington last season and played at a high level whenever on the field. Given his age and uncertain status — he moved between the bench and the starting lineup on a regular basis — he likely will not command top dollar on the open market this year.
Bobby Massie (UFA): Massie offers considerable experience: the 32-year-old has started 127 games over the course of his career, and showed in 2021 that he can still play at a high level. While his pass protection was a bit inconsistent at times, Massie was impressive as a run blocker.
Morgan Moses (UFA): Another offensive tackle on the “wrong” side of 30, Moses will likely also be available at a low price — despite having played some good football in his first (and potentially only) season with the New York Jets. Moses started 16 of 17 games and gave up four sacks on the year.
Joseph Noteboom (UFA): Noteboom saw limited action for the Los Angeles Rams last year, but he looked solid in his three starts. Will that be enough to earn him a high-end contract this offseason? That seems unlikely, but it might make him a potential target for a team like New England.
Riley Reiff (UFA): A former first-round draft pick, Reiff joined the Cincinnati Bengals last offseason and promptly earned the starting right tackle spot. However, an ankle injury forced him to end his season in early December; nonetheless, the 33-year-old can still be a serviceable starter-level lineman.
Sam Tevi (UFA): After starting 46 games for the Los Angeles Chargers between 2017 and 2020, Tevi joined the Indianapolis Colts last offseason. However, he missed the entire year after tearing his ACL in the preseason. His experience and relative youth — he won’t turn 28 until November — might make him a potential target.
Unless they want to pay top dollar to other free agents such as Cam Robinson, Terron Armstead or Eric Fisher — all of whom aligning on the left side of the line — the Patriots’ best option in free agency appears to be re-signing Trent Brown. The veteran has expressed interest in staying in New England previously, so the two sides might just be able to work out a deal even with the Patriots only $4.9 million under the cap right now.