Finishing the 2022 season with an 8-9 record and out of the playoffs, the New England Patriots have plenty of work to do to return to postseason contention. One big part of this process will be taking care of their own class of free agents.
Quite a few players are headed for the open market, with a total of 21 players that were with New England last year in need of a new contract. Among them is offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste, who is a restricted free agent and will hit the open market on March 15 if not tendered by that point.
Name: Yodny Cajuste
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 72
Opening day age: 27
Size: 6-foot-5, 310 pounds
Contract status: Restricted free agent
What is his experience? Cajuste arrived in the NFL as a third-round pick by the Patriots in the 2019 draft, but has seen action in only two seasons so far: he missed virtually all of his first two years in the league due to injury before serving as a backup in both 2021 and 2022. Along the way, Cajuste saw action in a combined 17 games — including five as a starter. His contributions as a whole, however, where limited and he amassed only 278 total offensive snaps as a pro over his first four years in New England.
That said, he still offers some experience from his time at West Virginia between 2014 and 2018. Cajuste earned the Mountaineers’ starting left tackle job the following year. Injuries in both 2015 (knee) and 2016 (torn ACL) limited him to just eight in-game appearances over those two seasons, but he bounced back in impressive fashion by starting the final 23 straight games of his collegiate career. Along the way, he was named to two All-Big 12 teams and recognized as a second-team All-American after his senior campaign.
What did his 2022 season look like? Despite seeing his first in-game action in three seasons in 2021, Cajuste entered his fourth year as a pro seemingly fighting for his roster life. The former Day 2 draft pick was under pressure to finally take a leap and live up to his draft status, something he in fact appeared to do over the summer. He looked solid in training camp and preseason, and with the team trading fellow offensive tackle Justin Herron to Las Vegas entered the season as the third option at offensive tackle.
Cajuste again served as a backup player initially, working behind left tackle Trent Brown and right tackle Isaiah Wynn. He did see 10 snaps in place of Wynn in the season opener in Miami, but had to wait until Week 9 to see his first extended action of the season. Wynn had been relegated to rotational option at that point and would eventually head to injured reserve; with recent veteran pickup Marcus Cannon also unavailable due to a season-ending concussion the road was finally open for Cajuste to fill a starting role.
His tenure as RT1 lasted all but three games. He went wire to wire against Indianapolis, New York and Minnesota, but had some ups and downs. What eventually doomed him, however, was yet another injury. Cajuste missed the Week 13 bout against the Buffalo Bills with a calf ailment, and when he returned again found himself a backup: the team had elevated Conor McDermott, who was recently signed off the New York Jets’ practice squad, to the starting role and kept him there through the remainder of the season.
As a result, Cajuste’s fourth year in New England ended with 10 in-game appearances and three starts. He was on the field for 197 of a possible 1,052 offensive snaps (18.7%) as well as 31 more on special teams (of 457; 6.8%). He also missed five more games on injured reserve in October and November with a thumb issue, and played some inconsistent football when available: per Pro Football Focus, he surrendered 12 total quarterback pressures including three sacks. All in all, his 2022 campaign was therefore another disappointment.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Cajuste joined the Patriots via a four-year, $3.48 million rookie contract in 2019. While he missed a considerable portion of his time in New England with injuries, he was still able to earn a significant part of that sum: per Over the Cap, the former third-round draft selection has contractual career earnings of $3.17 million.
Which teams might be in the running? Cajuste was merely a backup player through his four years in New England, so the expectation is that his market will develop rather slowly if not tendered by the Patriots as a restricted free agent. Possibly landing spots include the Las Vegas Raiders and Houston Texans, who are both led by ex-Patriots who have experience with the 26-year-old. Additionally, the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans might also be in the running.
Why should he be expected back? The Patriots’ offensive tackle position is not in a good shape at the moment, with only Trent Brown and unproven second-year man Andrew Stueber under contract for 2023. Bringing back Cajuste — one of four free agents at the position — would ensure some level of depth and stability; while he has not yet shown he can hold up through an entire season, he offers experience as a backup option that will likely be available on the cheap.
Why should he be expected to leave? New England held onto him through his rookie deal, but at one point the team will have to call a spade a spade: Cajuste might not be what it is looking for at the offensive tackle spot. His availability is a concern, and he also was leapfrogged by in-season pickups twice in 2022. When Marcus Cannon and Conor McDermott are brought in to start games over you, your future does not look particularly bright.
What is his projected free agency outcome? As a restricted free agent, the Patriots have three ways to prevent Cajuste from entering the open market: tender him at the first-, second- or original/third-round level with the appropriate compensation attached to each one. However, given his résumé it is no stretch of the imagination that he will not be tendered and instead enter the open market in March. He might be brought back on a veteran’s minimum deal, but at this point in time it seems more likely that the two parties are moving in different directions.
Do you want the Patriots to re-sign Yodny Cajuste?
This poll is closed