The New England Patriots made a strategic error in the 2022 off-season when they ripped apart their very solid offensive line. It was costly and it’s not a stretch to say it cost the team a playoff berth. They missed the playoffs by one game.
The offensive line is the key to the team, the team’s most important unit, and after the quarterback, the most important entity on the squad, period.
In the 2022 offseason, the Patriots fashioned their own demise by deconstructing a very good unit and then scrambling to try to rebuild it. The season’s mediocrity was embodied by that gaffe.
Observers gravitate naturally to skill positions. The players who score touchdowns, create sacks, and intercept passes, are all front and center.
Yet, weaken your offensive line in the offseason, as the New England Patriots did in 2022, and it becomes a flaw that usually can’t be fixed later.
Let’s take a look at how the New England Patriots ruined 2022 by wrecking their own offensive line.
New England Patriots sent two key players packing
The worst aspect of the team’s 2022 offseason was losing key members of the interior offensive line, Shaq Mason and Ted Karras. These two moves sank the entire unit and the season with it.
The trading Shaq Mason was the first hammer blow. Mason was shockingly and inexplicably traded to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft pick. He was worth far more to the Patriots. This exemplified more shoddy personnel management by the Patriots.
Mason was an adequate pass blocker. But as a run-blocker, he excels. He’s one of the best in the NFL, a road-grader even though somewhat undersized. He was traded ostensibly for salary cap reasons. They should have gone in other directions.
In addition, they allowed free-agent hybrid guard and center Ted Karras to leave in free agency for a second time. This was an unfathomable move for several reasons.
First, Karras’s versatility, ability to play both guard and center on a starting level, is an invaluable asset to any NFL team. He can fill in adequately and start or be a super backup at both positions. That also helps gameday squad selection since he can play both equally well.
The team effectively not only went two starting guards packing but also lost their best backup center in Karras who spells the terrific but somewhat injury-hampered David Andrews in an almost seamless plug-and-play manner.
These losses, coupled with the loss in the 2021 off-season of the team’s best offensive lineman, Joe Thuney, severely weakened a once formidable front line.
New England Patriots tried and failed to mitigate the damage
After these questionable moves, the team was forced to add a guard through the draft. That engendered their next huge gaffe. They felt obligated to spend a first-round pick on a guard.
Drafting a guard in the first round is a questionable move, but in addition, they proceeded to reach excessively on the pick. They drafted a projected third-round or so pick, Cole Strange from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
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The pick surprised Strange himself and also drew guffaws from the then-champion Los Angeles Rams brass on national TV. It was a massive reach, a terrible draft decision, and an embarrassing moment.
Whether Strange emerges as a solid player (he was fairly effective his rookie season though he was benched at one point) is irrelevant. He was drafted far too high.
The opportunity cost of not getting a better player was squandered. They likely could have had Strange easily in the second round or later.
To exacerbate the offensive line’s situation further, the team again utilized Michael Onwenu at right guard. He’s a fine guard but with Isaiah Wynn and a host of other right tackles failing miserably, he should have been moved to right tackle. The result was a broken pocket for Mac Jones and a broken season.
That’s how the New England Patriots undermined their own season in 2022. We’ll see if they do the right thing and beef up the offensive line with two or three tackles this off-season. Frankly, it will be surprising if they do.