While no one really acknowledged it at the time, when Shaq Mason signed a five-year, $45 million contract extension in late August, the Patriots made their intentions clear.
Mason was the player from the 2015 draft that they were going to commit to long-term, and not Trey Flowers. Sure, the organization could have extended him too, but with its current cap situation and the way it typically does business, it appears it was either one or the other. Lately, the Patriots just haven't given second contracts to multiple players from the same draft.
NFL Media’s Mike Giardi noted during the year and again Monday on Ordway, Merloni & Fauria that the Patriots never approached Flowers following the Mason deal or at any point during the season about a contract extension of his own.
The Patriots chose a right guard over an edge rusher, which become official Monday when Flowers inked a deal with Detroit, and it really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
Over the years, and especially in recent ones, Bill Belichick and the Patriots simply don’t put much money into the defensive end/edge position. The way the Patriots use these players in their scheme they can likely find someone who can come close to Flowers for a small portion of the cost, whether that is via free agency or high in the draft.
Playing defensive end for the Patriots isn’t like most teams. Their top priority isn’t to put pressure on the opposing quarterback, instead it is setting the edge and doing what it can to not run past the quarterback. This is a prime example why Patriots pass rushers generally have better numbers elsewhere because they are allowed to play more free.
While Flowers was one of the best in recent memory at setting the edge for the Patriots, the value of getting a slightly lesser version for a fraction of the cost was the best value for the Patriots.
Defensively, the Patriots haven’t been afraid to pay big money to cornerbacks, safeties, linebackers and even interior linemen in recent years, but the edge position just hasn't been something Belichick and Co. have wanted to invest in.
And as for why Mason was chosen over Flowers?
Part of it is guards are harder to find than edge rushers, especially to play for the Patriots, but also the value of the position. Mason is making an average of $9 million per year, while Flowers will be getting $17 or $18 million per year in Detroit.
And then even with how good of a coach Dante Scarnecchia is, even he cannot turn a player into what Mason has been for the Patriots. As productive as Flowers was as a member of the Patriots, Mason has been the same, if not more. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the highest-rated guard during the 2018 season.
The Patriots will now need to search for Flowers’ replacement, and it will be more than just Michael Bennett who they reportedly traded for at the end of last week. Internally, Deatrich Wise figures to have more of a role than in previous seasons, and Derek Rivers seems primed for a breakout year of sorts after missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL, which made last year basically a rookie season.
Then, there are certainly other veteran free agents who will become available at a much cheaper cost, and don’t forget about the draft. This year’s group is said to be loaded with versatile linemen who can play both inside as well as the edge, and the Patriots have six picks in the top 101 overall. Day 1 contributors can certainly be had, especially ones who can take coaching and learn the Patriots’ system quickly.
Certainly, it’s tough to move one from such a quality player and locker room presence like Flowers, but when looking at the big picture and factoring in Mason, it was almost a no-brainer.