Patriots

Patriots 2020 NFL free agency primer: Where does offensive line go from here?

Patriots 2020 NFL free agency primer: Where does offensive line go from here?

Editor's Note: Phil Perry will be taking an in-depth look at each of the Patriots' position groups between now and when the NFL's 2020 free agency period begins, spotlighting the current roster and what names might be available on the market.

The Patriots' offensive line was thrown into a state of flux before the 2019 season even began. David Andrews was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs and was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Veteran tackle Jared Veldheer retired in June.

By Week 3 of the season, left tackle Isaiah Wynn had been placed on injured reserve, and the team had imported a whopping five different offensive linemen who had spent the offseason with other clubs.

In what was perhaps his most challenging season, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia had to make things work with Marshall Newhouse at left tackle for eight weeks and backup interior lineman Ted Karras as the full-time center.

In pass-protection, they actually patched things together relatively successfully. Tom Brady recorded a career-high in throwaways -- understanding when to bail on a play that hadn't been blocked up correctly -- but as a group they had an 81.6 pass-block efficiency rating from Pro Football Focus, which was 10th in the NFL.

The running game, however, was a different story. This group struggled with that for most of the season, leading to lackluster production from their backs and a ho-hum play-action passing game. 

What's in store for this group in 2020? Any free-agent fixes available? Let's take a look.

Breaking down the current roster

Isaiah Wynn: Upon his return from IR, he held his own. He placed 18th in PFF's pass-blocking efficiency metric among NFL tackles from Week 12 (his first game back) through the Wild Card Round, allowing 13 total pressures on 263 pass-block snaps. The 2018 first-rounder needs to stay healthy -- he has just eight pro games under his belt in two years -- but figures to be the team's left tackle in 2020 unless the Patriots add a ready-made blindside protector and kick Wynn inside to guard.

Joe Thuney: Why might the Patriots want to kick Wynn inside? Because they could lose one of the game's best left guards via free agency. Thuney was named a Second-Team All-Pro for his work in 2019 and was far and away the team's most consistent blocker. He could end up setting the market for guards in free agency. Thuney enjoyed his time in New England, but keeping him around -- especially with plenty of other positions to improve and not much in the way of cap space -- could prove difficult for Bill Belichick.

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David Andrews: Pulmonary embolism ended Andrews' season before it began, and the team missed his athleticism and football IQ on the interior. Speaking at a recent charitable event, he indicated he'd find out more about his condition following check-ups next month. The Patriots have to hope he'll be given the "all clear" to return.

Shaq Mason: It was an up-and-down season for the guard, who since being drafted in 2015 has been among the team's most consistent performers. After grading out as the No. 8 and No. 4 guard in football in 2017 and 2018, per PFF, he checked in at No. 33 this past season. He has four years remaining on a contract extension he signed in 2018.

Marcus Cannon: Another player who dealt with injury -- and for a few weeks an illness that limited him -- Cannon still placed 13th in PFF's pass-block efficiency metric among tackles who played at least 75 percent of their team's snaps. He has two years left on his deal.

Marshall Newhouse: The team's fill-in tackle when Isaiah Wynn went down, he was praised for being able to grasp the offensive system relatively quickly. After a decade in the league, though, his physical limitations were apparent at times. He signed a one-year deal so his time with the Patriots is likely over.

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Ted Karras: The do-it-all interior lineman was forced into a position to be the full-time starting center with Andrews out. He performed admirably in the pass game, allowing just 11 total pressures, which was fifth-best at the position among players with at least 75 percent playing time. He's a free agent this offseason and could be targeted by the Patriots to reprise his three-position backup role as someone who understands the guard and center spots in their offense.

James Ferentz: The 30-year-old veteran backup started two games last season -- the first of his career -- and is respected in the locker room as an intelligent fill-in option. He's a free agent.

Korey Cunningham: The Patriots acquired the young tackle from Arizona for a 2020 sixth-rounder when it was clear their tackle depth was lackluster going into the season. He played just 59 snaps in 2019 and has two years left on his rookie contract. He could compete for a backup tackle spot next season.

Jermaine Eluemunor: Another young offensive lineman acquired right at the start of the regular season, Eluemunor is a player the Patriots had to have liked. They sent Baltimore -- where reportedly he was playing with starters in spring workouts -- a fourth-round pick for Eluemunor and a sixth-rounder. That kind of pick-swap deal is how the Patriots have picked up contributors in the past like Dwayne Allen and Martellus Bennett. Eluemunor is a restricted free agent this offseason and should be back to compete for a role.

Hjalte Froholdt: Injured during preseason play, the 2019 fourth-round pick out of Arkansas who drew Danish reporters to Foxboro missed the entirety of his rookie regular season on IR. He struggled for much of the summer and it's worth wondering how, if at all, he'll factor into any plans to fill in for a potential Joe Thuney departure. 

Yodny Cajuste: Injured when he was selected in the third round out of West Virginia, Cajuste is a good athlete who excelled in pass-protection at the college level. The Patriots could use more tackle depth -- they got caught short there last season despite understanding the importance of the position in 2017 to the point that they had four different players play capably as starters there -- and perhaps Cajuste will help in that regard in Year 2.

Who is potentially on the open market?

Andrus Peat: The Saints overpaid for Peat when they picked up the 2013 No. 7 overall pick's fifth-year option prior to the 2019 season, but this could represent a buy-low opportunity for the Patriots in free-agency if Thuney departs. Peat should not break the bank -- he was the No. 53 guard in 2019, per PFF's grades -- yet he may be viewed as a moldable talent. The Patriots have dabbled in the failed-highly-drafted-guard market before when they traded for Jonathan Cooper in 2016. Peat, drafted as a tackle but most recently a left guard, should be athletic enough to handle Patriots responsibilities and has played in a complex system in New Orleans.

Ereck Flowers: Another failed high-end draft pick, Flowers was taken four spots ahead of Peat in 2015 at No. 9 overall. Flowers is a massive body (6-foot-6, 330 pounds) who made the switch from left tackle to left guard last season. Would the Patriots view him as untapped potential with positional versatility... or as a lost cause?

Greg Robinson: Sensing a trend here? Robinson was the No. 2 overall pick in 2014 and has flamed out at every stop he's made in his short career. Didn't work out with the Rams. Didn't work out with the Lions in 2017. Didn't really work out with the Browns in either of the last two seasons, where he started 22 games at left tackle. But there is size (6-foot-5, 330 pounds) and physical ability there that earned him consideration as one of the college game's most talented prospects not that long ago. Could Dante Scarnecchia whip him into a starter, as he did with Trent Brown two seasons ago, kicking Isaiah Wynn inside if Thuney leaves? Robinson should cost less than the $6.4 million he made on his one-year deal in Cleveland in 2019.

Cam Fleming: Fleming served as a capable backup in New England from when he was drafted in 2014 through the 2017 season. That's what he'd be with the Patriots if he were to return on a relatively inexpensive deal after two years in Dallas. Why not list bigger-name options in this space like Bryan Bulaga from the Packers, Jack Conklin from the Titans, Anthony Costanzo from the Colts or Brandon Scherff from the 'Skins? Those players might take up a third (or more) of the approximately $30 million the Patriots have in cap space at the moment. If they were looking to spend that much, it'd likely go to Thuney. Gambling on talent and going cheaper -- even though the Patriots currently have the sixth-fewest cap dollars committed to offensive linemen for 2020 in the NFL, according to OverTheCap.com -- seems like the more realistic free-agent route.

NFL Rumors: Patriots, RB Lamar Miller agree to one-year contract

NFL Rumors: Patriots, RB Lamar Miller agree to one-year contract

The New England Patriots added a veteran running back to their roster on Monday.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, ex-Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans RB Lamar Miller reached an agreement with the Patriots on a one-year contract.


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Miller, 29, missed the entire 2019 campaign after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason. In 2018 with Houston, he rushed for 973 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games and was named to the Pro Bowl.

Miller's most productive NFL season came in 2014 with Miami when he tallied 1,099 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

With Miller now in the fold, he joins a Patriots running back depth chart that also consists of Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris. Michel underwent foot surgery in May and was placed on the PUP list earlier this month.

Fantasy football 2020: Projections for Tom Brady, other Bucs players

Fantasy football 2020: Projections for Tom Brady, other Bucs players

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski leaving the New England Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't just send a shockwave through the NFL. It also altered the fantasy football landscape.

The fantasy values of both the Patriots and Bucs' skill players will be much different in 2020 following Brady and Gronk's departure from Foxboro. We've gone over what to expect from the go-to guys in New England's offense, so now it's time to go over Tampa's weapons.

The obvious benefactors -- at least one would think -- of Brady becoming a Buc are his primary wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. But will their numbers, along with Brady's, see a significant increase as expected, or should we pump the brakes on the hype?

And then there are the running back and tight end positions. Can Tampa's intriguing rookie running back take over the starting job? What can we really expect out of Gronk after a year off from football?

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Here are our projections for the Bucs' key offensive players with Brady and Gronk in the fold:

Tom Brady, QB
Projected Stats
: 4,300 yards, 29 TD, 9 INT
Projected Draft Round: 5-7

Brady is set up to be a really solid starting quarterback in fantasy football this year. That being said, those who expect Brady to put up elite numbers and draft him any higher than Round 5 are just asking to be disappointed. There are going to be some growing pains in Bruce Arians' offense. Sure, having his old pal Gronk around as a security blanket will help, but it's going to take time for the six-time Super Bowl champ to get comfortable down in Florida. There's little doubt Brady's numbers will be better in nearly every category now that he has some real weapons at his disposal, just make sure you don't reach when plenty of other QBs will do just fine in the middle rounds.

Ronald Jones II, RB
Projected Stats
: 650 yards, 4 TD
Projected Draft Round: 7-9

Jones was an OK flex play at points last season, but overall he simply hasn't been the running back Tampa Bay has hoped for these last few seasons. That led to the Bucs selecting Vanderbilt product Ke'Shawn Vaughn on Day 2 of this year's NFL Draft. Jones is the No. 1 guy heading into camp, though it doesn't look like that will be the case throughout the 2020 campaign. Wait until the mid-to-late rounds to take Jones, and maybe even consider passing entirely to take Vaughn if you're so inclined to take a Bucs RB.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB
Projected Stats
: 550 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

Speaking of Vaughn, he could be a major difference-maker for the Bucs in Brady's offense this season. He rushed for 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns for Vandy last season and was pretty effective through the air too, tallying 270 yards and a TD. It's always tough to count on a rookie, but it's worth the risk and the ceiling definitely seems to be higher with Vaughn than it is for Jones. The addition of McCoy, however, makes Vaughn's fantasy outlook a bit murky.

LeSean McCoy, RB
Projected Stats
: 400 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

It's impossible to now as of right now how the Bucs backfield is going to shape up in 2020. Although McCoy is a shell of what he once was, Bruce Arians definitely should find some sort of role for the 32-year-old veteran. The obvious question is whether that role will be more significant than Jones' or Vaughn's. If you're really that compelled to draft a Bucs running back, something I'd avoid entirely, it's a total toss-up and a matter of personal preference.

Mike Evans, WR
Projected Stats
: 75 receptions, 1,250 yards, 7 TD
Projected Draft Round: 2-3

There's no question the Brady-to-Evans connection is going to excite people heading into the new season. However, I'm somewhat skeptical about how their playing styles will mesh. Brady isn't one to take many risks, and Evans made a living out of catching Jameis Winston's ridiculous jump-balls downfield. It really is impossible to know how that'll work itself out, but nonetheless we're believers in Evans' elite talent and project him as a solid WR1 again in 2020.

Chris Godwin, WR
Projected Stats
: 90 receptions, 1,350 yards, 10 TD
Projected Draft Round: 2-3

Godwin was the breakout star of the 2019 fantasy football season as he put up absolutely ridiculous numbers with Jameis Winston under center. Now, the question is whether he can do it again with Brady. That may seem like a silly question, but again we have no clue what to expect from Brady in Arians' offense and how it will differ from what Godwin thrived in a year ago. Regardless, he definitely should be one of the first WRs off the board.

Rob Gronkowski, TE
Projected Stats
: 50 receptions, 700 yards, 5 TD
Projected Draft Round: 6-8

How do you make stat projections for a guy who took a year off from football to party in Miami and join the WWE? With injury concerns to boot, that makes drafting Gronk in fantasy football an extremely risky move. Obviously, with that high risk could come high reward as Tampa's offense has the potential to be one of the best in the entire NFL and Brady is going to look to Gronk early and often as a security blanket. Draft the former Pats tight end in the middle rounds, long after guys like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz are off the board.

O.J. Howard, TE
Projected Stats: 25 receptions, 450 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

The Bucs are going to run two-tight end sets in 2020, so don't think that Gronk's presence will limit Howard's production. In fact, it could even help it. Howard was a huge fantasy disappointment in 2019 and is out to prove he isn't a bust this year. There's also still a chance he gets traded to a TE-needy team and benefits from a change of scenery. Either way, you could do worse than Howard in the later rounds of your draft.