State of the Patriots: Isaiah Wynn’s time to shine on offensive line

By WEEI 93.7
As the NFL offseason heads toward free agency and the draft, all 32 teams must assess their own talent before they begin anew the roster-building process. With that in mind, is taking a position-by-position look at the state of the Patriots roster.

Offensive line

Returning players: Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Hjalte Froholdt, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham, Najee Toran

Free agents: Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, James Ferentz, Jermaine Eluemunor (RFA), Marshall Newhouse

2019 recap: Depth and consistency issues on the Patriots offensive line began last summer when veterans Jared Veldheer and Brian Schwenke – two guys Bill Belichick later said would have made the regular season roster –decided to retire. Captain and starting center David Andrews landed on injured reserve for the entire year with blood clots in his lungs. Then second-year first-round left tackle Isaiah Wynn went down with a foot injury in Week 2 that sent him to IR for eight weeks. It all left legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia scrambling to field a cohesive five-man unit, testing even his Midas touch. Ted Karras filled in capably at center, even if not to the level Andrews has established. Veteran September signing Marshall Newhouse stepped in at left tackle and did his best, but too often that wasn’t good enough to protect Tom Brady or open things up on the ground. Compounding the issues in personnel was the fact that both Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon had somewhat lackluster seasons on the right side, although the former seemed to battle health issues most of the season. Heading toward free agency, former third-round pick Joe Thuney was the best player on the line all year, likely earning himself a very large paycheck moving forward. Even with Wynn returning to play at a relatively solid level over the second half of the season the combined efforts of the guys up front contributed significantly to a lackluster offensive season in New England. The Patriots rushing attack averaged just 3.8 yards per carry on the season leading to the NFL’s 18th-ranked ground game. Brady’s lack of comfort in the pocket contributed to his down season, including too many throwaways under pressure, or at least perceived pressure. It was not a good year for the guys in the trenches.

2020 projection: Coming off a subpar season, New England’s offensive line is going to incur some key losses moving forward. Scarnecchia has already announced his retirement, leaving a major hole in the coaching ranks. With Belichick’s history of replacing from within, coaching assistant and longtime Youngstown State offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo may be the most likely candidate to take over. But no one is going to bring Scarnecchia’s credibility, experience or leadership to the group. There is also a very good chance that Thuney departs with a mega-deal on the free agent market, especially with New England having already handed Mason a $50 million contract. Given the team's overall cap situation and issues at other positions, it's hard to imagine Thuney back even under a franchise/transition tag. The group would get a huge boost if/when Andrews is cleared and returns to his job anchoring the middle of the line. Still, the biggest questions might revolve around Wynn. Is he a mainstay, franchise-type left tackle despite his limited size for the position? Could he be bumped inside to replace Thuney at left guard? If so, who the heck would fill the void at the most important spot on the line a year after the Newhouse plan did little to bring stability to the spot? Despite rumors and whispers about Cannon’s future, the right side seems set with him and Mason holding things down. After a disappointing 2019, considering Scarnecchia’s loss and given Wynn’s durability issues the Patriots line group faces a lot of questions and challenges heading into 2020.

Draft/free agency need – Medium: New England invested a pair of mid-round picks in the offensive line a year ago, though both third-round tackle Yodny Cajuste (NFI) and fourth-round guard Hjalte Froholdt (IR) sat out their rookie seasons. Both guys have intriguing potential if healthy and their internal evaluations in New England obviously impact the need in terms of line depth. Still, it would seem that tackle would be a target in either the draft or mid-level veteran free agency to provide depth, at the very least, with starting upside. Assuming Andrews is healthy, New England should return four of five starters. Adding to that group through free agency and the draft may not be a top priority, but it’s hard to imagine there won’t be new faces added in both avenues of roster-building, the question being how big an investment must be made to improve the run blocking and pass protection moving forward.