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Patriots 2023 offseason preview: Interior offensive line is an area of stability

Our position-by-position offseason analysis continues at the center and guard positions.

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New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Two teams are left standing in the NFL playoffs, but the New England Patriots are not among them. Finishing the regular season with an 8-9 record, they failed to qualify for the tournament and are already on to the offseason.

It projects to be an interesting one for the team. On the one hand, it is coming off a disappointing year that saw especially the offense fall short of its expectations — a fact that has already led to some changes on the coaching staff. On the other hand, however, the Patriots are among the league leaders in offseason resources and already have plenty of young building-block-type players under contract.

With all that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time by looking at each position individually. Today, we continue things at the interior offensive line.

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Interior offensive line | Interior defensive line | Defensive edge | Off-the-ball linebacker | Cornerback | Safety | Special teams

Final 2022 depth chart

David Andrews: Andrews entered the 2022 season as the only member of the Patriots’ starting offensive line returning in his previous role. Despite the turnover around him, he had another solid season while working with three different starting quarterbacks. The team captain himself did miss some time due to a concussion suffered in Week 7, but he still ended the season ranked fifth on the team with 800 offensive snaps (76.1%). While on the field, Pro Football Focus credited him with two sacks and 11 other quarterback pressures given up.

Michael Onwenu: After spending the majority of his time at right tackle and left guard over the first two years of his career, Onwenu moved into his old college position in 2022. The decision to have him line up at right guard paid off: he was one of the better players in the NFL at the position, and surrendered just one sack and 13 more pressures all year — all while again being a very good run blocker. He also proved himself a reliable option, being on the field for a team-high 1046 offensive snaps (99.4%).

Cole Strange: New England raised some eyebrows when it decided to pick Cole Strange 29th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Chattanooga product went on to play some up-and-down football his rookie season: Strange had some very encouraging moments that showed his potential as a long-term starter in this league, but he also was benched twice and continues to be a work in progress from a technical perspective. All in all, he started all 17 games, was on the field for 984 snaps (93.5%), and gave up 23 disruptions.

James Ferentz: In a way, 2022 was business as usual for James Ferentz. Spending time on the practice squad? Check. Moving to the active roster as IOL4? Check. Starting in place of an injured starter? Check. In total, Ferentz started three games during David Andrews’ concussion-related absence. While a downgrade, he again performed admirably and ended the year with only four pressures given up in his 269 snaps (25.6%).

Kody Russey: An undrafted free agent out of Houston, Russey started the year on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster in November. However, the 24-year-old never actually saw the field and ended the season as a game-day inactive.

Bill Murray (PS): 2022 was an eventful year for the third-year lineman out of William & Mary. Murray moved from the defensive to the offensive side of the ball and showed enough to earn himself a spot on the practice squad and some praise from head coach Bill Belichick. He even made his NFL debut, playing three special teams snaps in a Week 13 loss to Buffalo.

Hayden Howerton (PS): Howerton entered the league as an undrafted rookie signing by the Tennessee Titans, but despite seeing action at all three interior spots in preseason was released ahead of the cutdown deadline. He eventually found his way to New England’s practice squad in early November, but saw no actual game action in 2022.

Chasen Hines (IR): A sixth-round draft choice out of LSU, Hines’ rookie season was a challenge. He started training camp on the non-football injury list, did see action in two preseason games, but despite making the 53-man roster was inactive each week. He was eventually placed on injured reserve in late October, and never reactivated.

Position assessment

The Patriots are looking pretty good at the guard position. They moved on from both Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney in the last few years, but Michael Onwenu is developing into a fantastic player, and Cole Strange showed some real promise even though he struggled at times. With those two, the Patriots should be set at the starter level for the next few years; it is always a good idea to get more depth, though.

James Ferentz has been a solid piece for the Patriots for a while, partly because of his position flexibility. He’s not a great player, but he can come in right away and he’s fine. It is certainly not a bad thing to have a guy that can play three positions along the offensive line, even if his talent doesn’t light the world on fire.

Chasen Hines never got a chance to play this year because of his injury, but he was a guy who was fairly highly thought of in the draft. If he can stay healthy, he could be the depth piece (and maybe even more) that they need moving forward.

The Patriots’ center spot is also in good hands. David Andrews has made it clear that he is going to come back next year, which is huge for an offensive line that struggled and is going to have to add some new pieces at both the starter and backup levels. Andrews is one of the leaders of the team, and having that veteran presence makes a big difference.

We saw that first hand when Cole Strange struggled mightily with Andrews out of the lineup this year. Kody Russey, meanwhile, played well in training camp and the preseason and is a solid backup center. He is a bit limited with position flexibility, but the fact that the Patriots elevated him to the active roster anyway shows how much they like him.

Offseason preview

The Patriots need to extend 2024 free agent Michael Onwenu, and then they should be good at guard for the foreseeable future. It would probably be smart to try to grab another depth piece later in the draft, but there is no pressing need at the position.

At center, the Patriots are in good shape as well. Andrews is a proven starter on a manageable deal, while Russey is a perfect guy to be a backup while on a cheap rookie contract. With some time to add weight and experience, he should show some improvement, and possibly be ready to take over whenever Andrews decides to hang it up.

As far as the 2023 offseason is concerned, though, the Patriots currently have the following interior linemen under contract:

  • David Andrews: $7.00 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2024
  • Michael Onwenu: $3.05 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2023
  • Cole Strange: $2.79 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2025 (plus possible 5th-year option)
  • Kody Russey: $870,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2023
  • Chasen Hines: $907,010 salary cap hit | Signed through 2025
  • Bill Murray: $870,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2023
  • Hayden Howerton: $750,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2023

Only one other member of the group, meanwhile, is headed for free agency:

  • James Ferentz: Unrestricted free agent

Level of concern: Low