The New England Patriots recently have lost two stellar performers on their offensive line, and these moves should appear offensive to Pats fans.
Gone now are stellar offensive right guard Shaq Mason, who was dished to the Tampa Bay Bucs of all teams for a paltry fifth-round draft pick. That’s a crying shame. In addition, top guard/center Ted Karras, who is more than capable of manning a starting position at either guard or center, was allowed to leave in free agency to Cincinnati.
These two moves are perplexing at best, and outrageous at worst. Not that trading Mason wasn’t a plausible idea. It was. The problem is the paltry return of only a fifth-rounder for such a talented player. As for Karras, this is back to the future, as he was allowed to leave after the 2019 season as well. Both then and now, it’s a horrendous decision.
Let’s take a look at what all this seemingly counterproductive maneuvering may mean for the prospects of the 2022 New England Patriots. At this moment, things don’t look very promising at all.
New England Patriots’ offensive line is in shambles
Losing two starting-caliber guards (one also the backup center) is not a good optic for the Patriots’ 2022 offseason team building. Add the loss of their top cornerback and pick artist extraordinaire J.C. Jackson, Brandon Bolden, and even Jakob Johnson, and the prospects for the team taking a leap forward (or remaining consistent, even) look dismal at best.
In actuality, the Patriots are now a lot worse than at the end of the 2021 season. The team has taken three steps back this offseason, unlike in 2021 when they aggressively moved to shore up deficiencies in free agency and did fairly well in the process.
This offseason, they seem to be falling further behind the very astute personnel operation known as the Buffalo Bills, aka the Champions of the AFC East for two years running. The Pats really haven’t done much of anything to get better, as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe suggests in this piece:
Last offseason, team owner Bob Kraft laid down the law in no uncertain terms to the Patriots’ football operations department, also known as Bill Belichick. He made it abundantly clear publicly that he expected not only a stellar draft, an unusual occurrence around Foxborough for years, but also a young quarterback around whom they could build the next generation of success.
Bill Belichick and then Director of Player Personnel Dave Ziegler responded. They were aggressive in free agency, spending loads of Mr. Kraft’s cash, and also conducted the best draft seen in these parts in years if not decades. Ziegler has since left for Oakland. Matt Groh is his successor, and the wheels now seem to have fallen off the Patriots’ personnel operation again, as the recent losses on the offensive line and elsewhere without replacements in line clearly indicate.
One of their latest whiffs, as tweeted by Evan Lazar of CLNS, was passing on Allen Robinson because of the Benjamins.
Losing Karras and then shipping off Mason in combination are flatly incomprehensible moves. First, let’s talk about Karras, the most underrated player on the 2021 team. He filled in at guard when called upon after the team finally inserted Michael Onwenu at right tackle when Trent Brown went down. He also served as the team’s backup center, having started 16 games for Miami the prior season.
Karras and his versatility are now to be applied in Cincinnati. Karras could back up two positions, thereby saving a gameday roster spot for another position. Karras’ value to the Patriots was huge. Now, he’s gone.
In the case of Mason, it’s a slightly different situation. The aforementioned Onwenu can play right guard effectively. That’s not an issue. But Mason is bonafide top NFL guard. To ship him out for a measly late pick is a travesty similar to the one the team made two offseasons ago when Rob Gronkowski was traded to Tampa Bay for a lousy fourth-rounder. Who can fathom these deals?
The Patriots’ current offensive line situation is a mess
So with both Karras and Mason now gone, who is left? Isaiah Wynn, who is not suited to play left tackle, again looks like he will play there. That’s not an optimum situation. The left guard, who knows. That may be recently re-signed James Ferentz, who’s been a career backup and an on-again-off-again Patriots player for years. He now may have to start.
The center is David Andrews, no problem there. The right guard may be Onwenu or whomever. Then there is the right tackle. Now, if Trent Brown is allowed to again leave in free agency, a huge hole eventuates there, though Brown should have been deployed at left tackle anyway.
If he goes, who are the Patriots left with at tackle? Justin Herron is a backup, not a starting-caliber NFL offensive tackle. Position him at right tackle and Mac Jones better have roller skates to escape the rush. The others are Yodny Cajuste, Yasir Durant, and newcomer Arlington Hambright, a journeyman.
This all spells one thing: big trouble in Foxborough. The Patriots will have to move swiftly and assertively in the rest of free agency (not likely) and in the draft in the early round(s) to shore up this debacle. The outgrowth of not shoring up the offensive line will be an offense that will never get off the ground and a season that will find the Patriots even more games behind the astute Buffalo Bills. There is still time to rectify the situation (possibly) but it doesn’t seem that the current personnel operation is up to the task. We’ll find out in short order.