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Curran's roster reset: Offensive line should be Patriots' top priority

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Trent Brown

Super Bowl 57, thanks for the clarity.

Trying to build an elite team with a "just OK" offensive line is like going rabbit hunting with a house cat. You CAN do it. But it’s not gonna work.

The Chiefs and Eagles have fairly different offensive styles. But it won’t work for Kansas City if Patrick Mahomes isn’t allowed to wander and throw. It won’t for Philly if they can’t run-block and -- when necessary -- take Jalen Hurts body-surfing on a key fourth down.   

The Chiefs’ offensive line is star-laden with Orlando Brown and Joe Thuney on the left and Creed Humphrey at center combining for six Pro Bowls and four second-team All-Pro honors.

The Eagles' Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce have 18 Pro Bowls and All-Pros between them and Landon Dickerson is a rising star at left guard.

Curran's Patriots position resets: Wide receiver | Tight end | Running back

Andy Heck just finished his 10th season as KC’s offensive line coach. Jeff Stoutland has been in charge of the Eagles offensive line for the same length of time. Heck is 56. Stoutland’s 61.

If you have good players exhibiting physical and mental toughness on a consistent basis and an experienced, respected coach instilling the requisite discipline for the most thankless job in sports, you’re in a good spot.

If not, you may be the 2022 Patriots. The performance of the Patriots' offensive line held the whole team hostage last season.

Matt Patricia was tabbed as lead offensive line coach -- a position he’d never held -- while also being the play-caller and de facto offensive coordinator (two more positions he never held). When it came clear in preseason Patricia was spread too thin, Billy Yates became the lead guy. Which would have been fine since he had experience. Except the Patriots also decided to put in a new offensive system with a far greater emphasis on wide-zone running and a new offensive language.

 

Patriots Talk: A position-by-position deep dive on the Patriots offense | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The team also traded experienced guard Shaq Mason to Tampa Bay, let Ted Karras go in free agency and spent its first-round pick on a new right guard, Cole Strange. A smart and willing player who was a bit undersized coming from UT-Chattanooga, Strange had a mixed-bag season. Right tackle Isaiah Wynn underperformed dreadfully. Left tackle Trent Brown didn’t play to his standards.

Fixing the offensive line is the most important step the 2023 Patriots have to make, and they’ve hired former Patriot Adrian Klemm to help with that.

Bright spots

Center David Andrews remains proof you can get high-level play and leadership from overlooked players. The six-time captain shouldn’t be overlooked when discussing future Patriots Hall of Famers.

Right guard Michael Onwenu – a sixth-rounder in 2020 – is annually one of the best in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Strange had some very solid stretches and appears to be a player the team can rely on for high-level play.

Yodny Cajuste, a third-rounder in 2019, came on when Wynn was hurt and/or ineffective and -- after battling injuries his first three seasons -- had some very good performances. So did Conor McDermott, a sixth-rounder in 2017 whom the Patriots re-signed during the season and got six competent starts from.

As a whole, the Patriots are a very good run-blocking team.

The disappointments

Wynn, a first-round pick in 2018, had his fifth-year option picked up for 2022. He made $ 10 million guaranteed but was a flag magnet and distressingly underperformed in pass protection. He had eight penalties and four false starts in nine games.

Brown had nine penalties and five false starts. Dominant as Brown could be -- the Packers, Browns and Steelers games being prime examples -- there were too many bad plays out of him.

Contract statuses

We will go left to right. Trent Brown is entering the final year of his deal. He’s got a $ 4 million base salary ($ 3 million of that is guaranteed as of March 16) and a cap hit of $ 12.25 million. He has $ 5.25 million tied up in "other bonuses."

Strange is signed through 2025. Andrews is signed through 2024 and has a $ 7 million cap hit this year. Onwenu is a free agent after this year. With a $ 3 million base and cap hit, his number is very manageable. But he’s gotta be dying for a raise at this point given he was an "old" rookie at 23. He’s worth trying to keep from hitting the market.

 

It’s also worth the Patriots bringing back McDermott at right tackle so he and Cajuste can compete while the team figures out how it wants to attack the bookend positions on their line.

Offseason priority (Scale of 1-5)

It's a 5. Top priority.

The team needs far better play at both tackle positions. They need to shore that up through the draft, free agency and through coaching.

The return of Bill O’Brien will help. Klemm and Yates together (presumably) should give the team more cohesion with the day-to-day coaching, discipline and execution.