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Curran: Assessing the state of Patriots' offensive line

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Generally speaking, the Patriots offensive line was not a problem in 2021.

Mac Jones absorbed some early-season abuse when Trent Brown was down and Isaiah Wynn was struggling but looking at surface stats, the Patriots got the job done running the ball and protecting Jones.

They finished eighth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (126.5), 12th in yards per attempt (4.4) and eighth in sack rate (5.23 percent of plays where Mac was dumped attempting to throw). They ran for 24 touchdowns (second in the league behind Philly). They allowed 10 fewer sacks in 2021 than in 2020 (27-37).

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From the Stuff That Bums You Out department, they had 25 offensive holding penalties (eighth in the league) with Wynn accounting for four of those. Wynn also had three false starts and an illegal use of hands. Wynn had four penalties in his career before 2021. By contrast, Shaq Mason had four penalties all season, less than half of Wynn’s.

Working in a run-based offense with a rookie quarterback, I’d give the fellas up front a solid B. Looking toward 2022, however, there’s work and planning to do and there will be a new OL coach in charge with Carmen Bricillo having gone to the Raiders.

Bright spots

The interior of the Patriots offensive line – C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason and LG Ted Karras – was really good. Andrews was rated fifth by Pro Football Focus among 39 centers, while Mason and Karras were fourth and 16th respectively among guards.

 

Considering Karras was brought back from Miami as OL depth and wound up playing 75 percent of the team’s snaps, that’s a good front-office move and credit to Karras, who’s continued to build a very solid career as an NFL starter. Andrews is just one steady SOB who brings very good leadership. And Mason is one of the best picks of the last decade. A real force.

Then there’s the curious case of Mike Onwenu. He was one of the best guards in the league as a rookie in 2020 and played 92 percent of the snaps. This year, he still wound up ranked third by PFF among guards but he only played 62 percent of the snaps while starting eight games. He began the year as the starter at LG then played 276 snaps in relief of Trent Brown at RT when Brown went down. When Brown came back, the Patriots left Karras at LG for the lion’s share and worked Onwenu in. Probably just a case of the Patriots having two good guards and only one being able to play but still worth mentioning.

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The disappointments

As noted at the top, Brown continues to be a human eclipse in the running game. But he was limited to nine games this year because of a calf injury. He’s played 27 of the past 49 regular season games between here and the Raiders. He only allowed one sack and nine pressures all season. When he’s out there, he’s good. He’s just not out there all the time.

Then there’s Wynn. A first-round pick in 2018 who’d been plagued by injury his first three seasons, Wynn got a full workload in 2021 and was surprisingly ineffective and mistake-prone at times. He allowed six sacks, five QB hits and 28 pressures according to PFF and drew those nine flags. There were weeks Wynn was fully locked in and more than competent. Which, in the end, made those lapses stand out a little more. It’s fair to wonder about Wynn’s development post-Dante Scarnecchia, especially when Bricillo -- who was slated to co-coach the OL with Cole Popovich -- wound up coaching OL by himself because of Popovich’s vaccination status.

It’s time to start planning for post-Wynn life. The Patriots went from Matt Light to Nate Solder to Wynn. Left tackle is as important a position as corner and wideout, in my opinion, and if one you LOVE is sitting there in Round 1, it’s a good idea to pull the trigger.

Tom E. Curran on Isaiah Wynn

Meanwhile, Justin Herron had some shaky moments in his second season when he saw the field. He played 369 snaps total at the tackle spots and another 23 as the third tight end. He was often overmatched in pass blocking and wound up ranked 63 of 83 tackles. Yasir Durant and Yodny Cajuste also played OL for the Patriots. Nothing good to say. Saying nothing.

Contract status

Mason has two years left on his current contract with base salaries of $6.5 million and $7.5 million and cap hits of $10.1 million and $8.9 million. He’s 29. He’s a very valuable player.

Andrews came back last season on a four-year, $19 million deal. His salaries and cap number hover around $4 million and $6 million for the rest of it. He’s also just 30.

 
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Wynn is making $10.413 million this year and he’ll be a free agent in 2023. Karras and Brown are free agents. Onwenu and Herron are on their rookie deals through 2023. Onwenu may be in line for a raise.

Roster locks for 2022

Everybody can be presumed to come back except Brown and Karras and both of them should be priority re-signs.

Offseason priority (scale 1-5): 4

It’s time to start planning for post-Wynn life. The Patriots went from Matt Light to Nate Solder to Wynn. Left tackle is as important a position as corner and wideout, in my opinion, and if one you LOVE is sitting there in Round 1, it’s a good idea to pull the trigger.