Patriots roster reset: Can David Andrews lead OL rebound?

Over the next few weeks, as we crawl closer to the hopeful opening of Patriots training camp later this summer, will take a position-by-position look at the New England roster following an eventful offseason of comings and goings.

Offensive line

Roster: C David Andrews (6th year), RT Marcus Cannon (10th), LG Joe Thuney (5th), RG Shaq Mason (6th), LT Isaiah Wynn (3rd), Jermaine Eluemunor (4th), Korey Cunningham (3rd), Yodny Cajuste (1st), Hjalte Froholdt (2nd), Najee Toran (1st), Michael Onwenu (rookie), Justin Herron (rookie), Dustin Woodard (rookie)

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: OL coach Dante Scarnecchia (retired), T Marshall Newhouse (FA)

Projected Starters: LT Isaiah Wynn, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon

Biggest Question: Despite the loss of legendary coach Dante Scarnecchia to retirement, could New England’s experienced, veteran unit enjoy a rebound year in 2020 to help guide an offense that’s in a state of transition in the first season post-Tom Brady?

Key Stat: 5 – Number of different starting lineups that the Patriots used in 2019 due to injuries along the front – backups Ted Karras (15), Marshall Newhouse (9) and James Ferentz (2) starting a combined 26 games -- which doesn’t even included losing center David Andrews during training camp.

Overview: Thanks at least in part to injury – losing David Andrews for the season during the summer and Isaiah Wynn for half the year in Week 2 – the New England offensive line struggled in 2019, a key factor in the Patriots overall offensive mediocrity. But returning all five starters and a handful of potential competitive backups for 2020, there is reason for hope for a rebound season for New England’s line this fall. After working through blood clots in his lungs, Andrews has declared himself cleared and a ready to go as the captain and centerpiece leader of the line. Though not a dominant player physically, Andrews’ return should stabilize the unit in many ways. That’s key given the retirement of legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia. While there has been no announcement, some combination of returning assistants Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo will lead the group. Clearly the two lack the experience and cache of Scarnecchia, and they won’t get the same benefit of the doubt from media and fans if the line struggles. Beyond Andrews’ return, seeing Isaiah Wynn settle in and lock down the left tackle spot would also greatly boost the line. The former first-round pick started the final six games of last season after returning from IR and was solid. Now, he must stay healthy and take it to the next level to live up to his draft status. Though on the field for all but one game a year ago, Shaq Mason didn’t play up to his own standards or contract, seemingly adversely affected by a knee injury. Similarly, Marcus Cannon was less-than-dominant at right tackle. Joe Thuney returns as arguably the best player on the line, which he should be given that he’s headed toward playing the 2020 season on a franchise tag that will pay him nearly $15 million, trailing only reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore for the highest cap number on the team. Thuney was great value over the last four years on a rookie contract as a third-round pick, now his increased paycheck will bring increased focus and expectations. While the starting five would seem to be set – save for the outside possibility of a surprise trade (Thuney?) or cut (Cannon?) with an eye on finances – the training camp battle for backup roles could be intriguing. After both spent their entire rookies seasons on IR/NFI, 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste and fourth-round selection Hjalte Froholdt could fight for roster spots and game day backup roles. They’ll be joined by rookie late-round draft picks in Michael Onwenu, Justin Herron and Dustin Woodard. Jermaine Eluemunor and Korey Cunningham remain as veteran options, though the former seems to be a bit overpriced with a restricted rights free agent tender of $2.1 million, likely to either redo his deal to stay with the team or get cut. It’s also worth noting that 2019 fill-in starters Marshall Newhouse and recent Patriots backup mainstay James Ferentz remain available in free agency. Overall, the story of the expectations for the Patriots 2020 offensive line will be pretty simple – stay healthy and live up to your potential. If that happens, the guys in the trenches should take some pressure off young skill players like quarterback Jarrett Stidham and running back Sony Michel. If it doesn’t, then look out, both literally and figuratively.

Power Rating (1-5): ****

New England’s offensive line has the talent and potential to be much improved from the injury-riddled unit that was a big part of the Patriots offensive struggles at times a year ago. Coaching, consistency, continuity and health will all be key factors up front.