I think if you were to canvas New England Patriots fans and ask them what is one thing you could change about the Patriots team from 2019, I believe the unanimous answer would be the offensive line. Yes the wide receiver and tight ends positions were a bit of a mess, but Tom Brady had 40 throwaways, and the worst completion percentage of his career, and that’s not all because of the Patriots skilled positions. Watching the Patriots go through the tribulations of Marshall Newhouse, not having the depth because of David Andrews health condition, losing Nate Solder and Trent Brown in back-to-back seasons, and Isaiah Wynn’s inability to stay healthy contributed to what was one of the most frustrating seasons as a Patriots fan I can remember in a long time
I want to try and be optimistic that the 2020 season will be better, but with Dante Scarnecchia retiring at the age of 72, and the probability that Ted Karras and Joe Thuney will both be leaving in free agency, I'm just having a hard time envisioning the offensive line getting any better, I actually believe it could get even worse. Isn’t that a treat to think about?
As Patrick Morgan from Musket Fire points out, the loss of Scarnecchia will have a major impact on the Patriots this season, and not in a positive way. Scarnecchia still has some involvement with the team. He was present at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week scouting offensive lineman for the Patriots. He had a similar role with New England back in 2013 the first time that he retired. Morgan says,
"Even if he and Belichick have gone to great lengths to ensure a proper succession plan is in place (and they surely have), there’s no denying the sheer absence of Scar from the sidelines is going to have an effect on his former players."
We've all seen the effect that Dante Scarnecchia has had on players like Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn. But where the New England Patriots are really going to miss the offensive line Guru this season is with the rookies. A young man entering professional football fot the first time and joining the team being trained and coached by scarnecchia has been crucial as the Patriots developed their young players. A Rookies transition from college to the NFL is difficult, and frankly, Scarnecchia’s retirement was just another blow to the Patriots. As I talked about in my SportsCastr show last night, the 2019 season was probably one of the most frustrating and miserable seasons that Patriots fans have had to sit through since the turn of the millennium. The turnover of the Patriots coaching staff and personnel has and will continue to impact the Patriots heading into 2020 and beyond. I’m not ready to say that we’re entering the dark ages, but it makes me appreciate Josh McDaniels and Nick Caserio staying with Belichick even more. What the Patriots need right now is consistency.
The scary part is, and I have to agree with Morgan when he says that it's not just a pessimistic belief that the offensive line was bad as it was in 2019 and it may even take a step back in 2020. With the loss of their best interior linemen and the best depth piece on the line, Bill Belichick almost has to go into a full rebuild of the offense of line. Unfortunately some of that is going to be hindered by having to also rebuild the wide receiver Corps and the tight end corps. The Patriots have been competitive for a long time, but being the oldest team in the league is starting to bite them in the ass.
Speaking from a pure football perspective only, one of the scariest prospects of the Patriots will be facing heading into this season is the health of David Andrews. From all the reports that I've read, it appears that he has been healing well from the blood clots he had in his lungs, but that's also an ailment that has ended careers in the past. If Andrews was not able to play this season or even have a late start, the loss of Ted Karras becomes even more devastating for New England.
When trying to look at possible replacements for Joe Thuney, it has to come external from the Patriots and it's leaving me feeling uneasy. The Patriots do not have formidable replacements already on the roster. Jermaine Eluemunor is a guy, Najee Toran is just a guy, Yodny Cajuste is unproven. None of those guys have the same pedigree as thuney does. You always have to be concerned about Isaiah Wynn’s health. In his two years with the Patriots he has yet to play an entire season, and for the Patriots sake we have to hope it was just a run of bad luck for his first two years, because he could become one of the more crucial pieces to the Patriots roster this season.
This is where I become uneasy about the current state of the Patriots. I know that we like to scream that the Patriots have to find Tom Brady offensive weapons so that he returns to New England and they continue their stairway to seven. But the reality is the Patriots need more than just a wide receiver and a tight end. They're losing key defensive players this year in Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins (possibly) and Devin McCourty (Possibly) The offensive line is a huge issue, and trading for Trai Turner and his $12 million cap hit won’t work with the Patriots current salary cap. This is a situation where Belichick needs to hit a low money, high return deal in free agency.
No matter who is playing quarterback for the Patriots this season the run game has to be effective. We clearly saw what happened last year when it wasn't, and with the thoughts being that the offensive line could take a step back this season, it makes it even scarier to think about because if the run games not going the Patriots continue to be a one-dimensional offense, which of course leaves us wondering if we're going to live through the same frustrations that we did in 2019.
For those of you that have been following me for a long time know that this is normally the point when I start offering up solutions and tell you why everything will be okay. I can't do that right now. I will admit that I'm going to stay optimistic that Bill Belichick will be able to figure something out, maybe they can hit on one or two guys in the draft perhaps they can explore some of the free agents around the league, but the road in the second half of the dynasty was lead by guys like Nate Solder, Trent Brown, and Joe Tunney. They've all been huge pieces for the Patriots Super Bowls, and when I look at New England’s succession plan, even I have to admit it doesn't look great.