The New England Patriots have addressed some big areas of need over the first couple of weeks of free agency.
They signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki to help bolster the passing attack. They revamped the offensive coaching staff following a disastrous 2022 season from that unit. They even found a way to cut costs at corner without getting worse.
But some big questions still loom at offensive tackle. They’ve made three signings at the position so far this offseason, though none of them should quell any concerns Patriots fans had about Mac Jones’ protection.
New England re-signed Conor McDermott weeks before free agency began, retaining a player they brought in off the New York Jets’ practice squad midway through the 2022 season because they were so thin at the position. McDermott gave the Patriots OK results, allowing 11 pressures in the final six games of the season per Pro Football Focus. He shouldn’t be the Day 1 starter at right tackle, though.
So, the Patriots dipped into the market and signed … Calvin Anderson and Riley Reiff. Yeah, if you haven’t heard of those names, there’s a reason why: they aren’t very good players.
Anderson, who was actually signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2019 but was cut shortly after, had an alright season with the Denver Broncos in 2022. He only played, though, because Garett Bolles broke his leg in Week 5 and was out for the rest of the season, forcing Anderson into action at left tackle. He only allowed two sacks, but he gave up 22 pressures over the nine games he played in, per PFF.
As for Reiff, he was the subject of constant scrutiny by Chicago media and Chicago Bears fans last season as he struggled through much of the action he saw. He didn’t become a starter until Week 8, starting the final 11 games of the season at right tackle. Reiff’s metrics aren’t too bad, as he gave up just three sacks and 18 pressures over those starts, according to PFF. But it’s hard to watch clips like this and think that the Patriots got themselves a stud at right tackle.
Here’s a look at the Patriots new OT Riley Reiff pic.twitter.com/gxQYldC1ZL
— Pierce Downey (@patsdowney) March 15, 2023
So yeah, the Patriots really retained or acquired three backup offensive tackles so far in free agency. That’s not necessarily a bad thing considering the depth they lacked at that position last season, but they haven’t acquired a true starter after that position gave them nightmares in 2022.
And it’s not like Trent Brown is Mr. Reliable, either. Brown, who turns 30 in April, has played in 11, five, and nine games from 2019-2021 before playing in all 17 games last season. New England switched Brown back to left tackle last season and got OK results, as he allowed eight sacks and a whopping 39 pressures while protecting Jones and Bailey Zappe’s blindside.
Brown could have a strong year in 2023, but he’s only had one real good season at left tackle and that came all the way back in 2018. He could possibly switch back to right tackle, where he played really well in 2021 for the Patriots. But that leaves a huge question at left tackle.
That’s why the Patriots must draft an offensive tackle in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. And if they do select an offensive tackle, it should be one that’s suited to play left tackle in the NFL, as we all know how important blindside blocking is nowadays.
Luckily for New England, there will likely be a handful of options available for the taking when they are on the clock with the No. 14 overall pick. Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski is viewed by many as the best offensive tackle in the class and has versatility to play at both tackle positions. He also isn’t projected to be picked until the back half of the top 10, possibly giving the Pats a window to trade up and land him.
Peter Skoronski making defenders disappear…. pic.twitter.com/pDDQAl5uKK
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) August 27, 2022
There’s also Georgia’s Broderick Jones, who started 19 games at left tackle and didn’t allow a single sack over that span. Tennessee’s Darnell Wright played at both left and right tackle in college, providing another flexible option.
That’s all before mentioning Ohio State’s tackle duo of Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones, who are both projected to go in the first or second round.
Maybe adding all those depth pieces at offensive tackle was just to make life easier for them if they add a rookie. If so, it’s not a bad plan. If not, well, Jones should be worried about the protection he will be getting in 2023.
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