The New England Patriots officially announced last week that their first open training camp practice will be held on July 26. The next few weeks then comprise the final stretch of the NFL offseason and the last extended period of time without football until the season is over. With that, I will be continuing my positional breakdown of the 2018 Patriots roster by looking at the interior offensive line.
Despite some turnover at the tackle position, the Patriots’ three starting interior offensive linemen are returning for their third straight season together. Captain and starting center David Andrews is nearly guaranteed to reprise his role for the 2018 campaign, but Shaq Mason and/or Joe Thuney may be affected by the addition of first round pick Isaiah Wynn. Wynn is going to compete with Trent Brown for the starting left tackle spot, but many feel that his height — at 6’3” — likely limits him to playing guard in the NFL level. In fact, many Patriots fans think that Wynn was drafted to beat out Thuney for the starting left guard spot. This would lead to a starting offensive line consisting of Brown — Wynn — Andrews — Mason — Cannon. While this may certainly be the case, I personally would present an alternative argument.
Starting right guard Shaq Mason’s contract expires after the 2018 season. Coupled with the fact that Zach Martin just received a 6-year/$84 million ($14 million per year) contract extension from the Dallas Cowboys, it is very likely that Mason will want to test free agency and cash in, similar to how Nate Solder did this past March. If I had to guess, I would assume that Mason would receive a contract roughly around the 5-year/$65-$68 million mark ($13 to about $13.5 million per year) on the open market, depending on how he plays this season. I find it very unlikely that Bill Belichick would tie up that much money in an offensive lineman, even one as good as Mason. I would imagine that the Patriots would only be willing to give Mason about $12 million per year, maximum. In addition, it is worth noting that the Patriots were reportedly very interested in Arkansas center Frank Ragnow leading up to this year’s draft as well as guard Dan Feeney last year, both of whom likely would have been drafted to replace either Thuney or Mason at one of the guard positions.
Given all these factors, I would not be surprised to see Bill Belichick trade Mason before the season starts if the two sides are unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension. While he is not as good as Mason, Thuney is still an above average starter with two years left on his rookie contract. By trading Mason, and plugging Wynn in at right guard, the Patriots could get something in return for a player they would likely lose anyway after the season. Of course, I could be misreading the situation completely; it is also completely possible that the Patriots have been looking to replace Thuney all along. But I am of the opinion that the Patriots coaching staff is higher on Thuney than most Patriots fans are. Just something to keep an eye on as training camp progresses.
Cole Croston, James Ferentz, Ted Karras, Luke Bowanko, and Jason King are all fighting for what will likely only be one or two spots. Croston and Karras are the most likely candidates to make the roster, as they were both on the Patriots active roster last year. However, the Patriots liked Ferentz enough to keep him around on the practice squad for all of last year, and Bowanko has the ability to play all five positions on the offensive line. Jason King is the least likely of the group to make the roster, in my opinion.
In the end, I am going to assume that the Patriots carry the same five interior offensive linemen as they did last year, while also keeping Ferentz around on the practice squad. However, injuries, trades, and other unforeseen circumstances can change the roster outlook very quickly. It will be very interesting to see how the Patriots offensive line shakes out come the regular season.
Roster (5): David Andrews, Cole Croston, Ted Karras, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney
Practice Squad (1): James Ferentz
Cut (2): Luke Bowanko, Jason King
Stay tuned next week, as I discuss the Patriots’ defensive tackle group!