The Patriots head into the 2023 season with their biggest question mark from a roster construction standpoint being at offensive tackle, where all options are on the table.
New England's interior trio returns for another season with second-year left guard Cole Strange, center David Andrews, and right guard Mike Onwenu forming a sturdy 'shelf' to provide good depth to the pocket for quarterback Mac Jones. However, both tackle positions are in year two of uncertain roster turnover.
Last season, the Patriots made a change by flipping incumbent starters Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn immediately in the spring, with Brown moving to left tackle and Wynn switching sides to right tackle. Wynn struggled with the transition, allowing four sacks and being called for nine penalties in seven starts. Due to Wynn's issues, the Pats replaced the former first-rounder with Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste, and Conor McDermott, all making starts at right tackle.
Along with a reworked coaching situation following former offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo's departure to Las Vegas, the Patriots finished 12th and 20th respectively in Pro Football Focus's pass-blocking and run-blocking grading, a noticeable drop-off from the 2021 season (tenth and seventh).
Although the coaching should stabilize with experienced O-Line coach Adrian Klemm now at the helm, New England's offseason additions at tackle were veterans Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson. The 34-year-old Reiff's been a reliable, hard-nosed player but is nearing the end of his career, while Anderson only has 12 career starts in three NFL seasons.
The Patriots also retained McDermott, who was the best of the bunch at right tackle a year ago, and Brown remains under contract as the top option at left tackle. Brown hit a speed bump this spring by reporting to mandatory minicamp a day late, though, and had his ups-and-down last season as well, allowing eight sacks (fifth-most among OTs) with 13 penalties (tied for second-most among OTs), so there's a level of uncertainty there, too.
New England must find two starting-caliber tackles among four veterans and potentially fourth-round rookie Sidy Sow. Sow mostly played guard at Eastern Michigan but practiced at tackle in the spring and has the measurables to kick outside. With Brown mostly not in attendance, Anderson was the primary left tackle, while McDermott and Reiff split time at right tackle, and Sow worked as a backup.
Heading into training camp, the expectation is that Brown will get a shot to prove he's all-in again with the inside track to start at left tackle, At right tackle, Reiff is still the current favorite to start, with Anderson and McDermott close behind, making this an open competition when padded practices begin.
Besides adding another external addition, the other scenario is that starting guard Mike Onwenu transitions back to right tackle, where he started 12 games as a rookie in 2020. The team has been consistent with their belief that Onwenu is "settled in" at right guard. Still, the Patriots have potentially higher-upside contingency plans on the interior than they do at tackle.
On top of Onwenu performing well at tackle in his rookie campaign, New England selected C/G Jake Andrews and guard Atonio Mafi early on day three of the 2023 NFL Draft. The thought was that Andrews would be the eventual successor to captain David Andrews at center, while Mafi serves as insurance for Onwenu with big Mike heading into a contract year.
However, with Onwenu reportedly working his way back from offseason ankle surgery, Andrews and Mafi got their fair share of snaps in Onwenu's spot. Ultimately, the best five-man configuration for the Patriots offensive line could see Onwenu at right tackle and one of the rookies at right guard, where protecting young players on the interior can be easier.
Anderson and Reiff's free-agent contracts suggest they'll make the initial roster. Due to their draft statuses, one would expect the day-three rookie trio to be somehow protected, whether on the active roster or stashed on injured reserve. New England has ten offensive linemen that will likely be in the mix this upcoming season, but the ongoing uncertainty at the tackle position makes it difficult to project starting roles.
The Pats need two starting tackles to emerge this summer, but it's on Klemm and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien to create an environment where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.