Aside from left tackle Trent Brown, the New England Patriots offensive line has been a problem so far this season. Despite the expected improvement from hiring Adrian Klemm as the new offensive line coach, the unit has regressed so far in 2023. While there are issues with health and productivity across the board, no position has stuck out as much as right tackles. So what will be the solution?
After letting Isaiah Wynn walk in free agency, there was going to be a hole to fill. The 2023 NFL Draft would have been a good place to start. New England opted for CB Christian Gonzalez and DE Keion White in the first two rounds, understandably. But there were still NFL ready talent available at tackle in round three and beyond.
But instead of going with BYU’s Blake Freeland or Ohio State’s Dewand Jones, the Patriots looked elsewhere. In round three they selected LB/DB Marte Mapu, with both of those options still on the board. After Freeland was selected by the Indianapolis Colts at the beginning of round four, New England selected again. This time they opted for center Jake Andrews. Four picks later the Cleveland Browns selected Dawand Jones at 111, leaving the Patriots with Sidy Sow out of Eastern Michigan at 117.
I thought there would be several quality offensive tackle prospects for the Patriots on Day 2 if they opted to wait, and there are:
— Dan Kelley (@DanKelley66) April 28, 2023
Perhaps Bill Belichick and Matt Groh didn’t have the same grades on Freeland or Jones as others. Or maybe the New England Patriots front office was feeling good about their free agent acquisitions before the draft, Reilly Reiff and Calvin Anderson, and did not view tackle as a position of need by the time the draft came around.
By the end of this year’s training camp, due to both player performance as well as health, right tackle was still a position in need of reinforcements. New England made two trades, acquiring Tyrone Wheatley Jr. from the Cleveland Browns and Vederian Lowe from the Minnesota Vikings.
But four games into the 2023 NFL season the New England Patriots are still waiting for somebody to step up and claim the starting right tackle spot. Who will it be? There are six candidates…
When the Patriots signed Reiff back in March, it appeared the starting right tackle job would be his. He signed a one-year $5 million deal. He has started 153 NFL games, including 10 last year as a member of the Chicago Bears. But by the end of the season, he was no longer starting for Chicago, despite a general lack of quality options on their roster.
In his first training camp with the Patriots, Reiff struggled. He was passed by Connor McDermott at right tackle and moved inside to guard. In the final preseason game, he injured his knee, forcing Reiff to begin the season on injured reserve. He returned to practice this week, but it is unclear how ready he is to play, or which position he will play when he is ready.
Like Reiff, Calvin Anderson signed with the New England Patriots in free agency. He had spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Denver Broncos. Last season he played in 14 games, starting seven. He was only whistled for one penalty over 439 snaps. He signed a two-year, $7 million contact with the Patriots, with $4 million guaranteed.
Anderson missed all of training camp with an undisclosed illness. He returned just before the 53-man roster was finalized, a day after the trades for both Wheatley Jr. and Lowe. Despite not playing in preseason, Calvin Anderson was the starting right tackle on opening night, and stayed there for the first two weeks of the season. Unfortunately, Anderson struggled mightily. In week two against the Dolphins, he managed to stand out, in a negative way, among an underperforming group of offensive linemen. He has not seen any action since.
Lowe was traded by Minnesota to New England on Aug. 27, 2023, for a sixth-round pick in next year’s draft. A Vikings sixth rounder out of Illinois in 2022, he appeared in four games as a rookie. This season he sat for the opener before getting his chance.
Trent Brown sat out week two in concussion protocol and Belichick gave Lowe the start at left tackle. He played well enough against Miami that when Brown returned to the lineup, Vederian Lowe was moved over to start at right tackle, replacing the struggling Anderson. However, Lowe did not fair any better over there. In two starts he allowed 17 quarterback pressures and a sack.
After the New England Patriots opted to ignore the more highly touted prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, the ultimately selected Sow int he fourth round. He was significant time at right tackle in the preseason but struggled. With Anderson returning in week one, and both starting guards out injured, Sow got the start at right guard for his first NFL game.
Unfortunately, Sidy Sow suffered a concussion in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The injury would keep him sidelined for the next two games. He did dress for this past weekend’s game against the Dallas Cowboys but played onto two special teams snaps.
Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.
Wheatley was another trade acquisition before the final roster cutdowns. The Patriots sent running back Pierre Strong, Jr. to the Browns in exchange for the 6-foor-6, 320-pound offensive lineman. Bill Belichick said he could play both guard and tackle and was a hard worker.
Despite dressing for the first two games, Wheatley only played a total of five snaps, all on special teams. He has been inactive each of the past two games. There is the least amount of game film on Wheatley out of this group, aside from preseason, but it is at least a little concerning that he hasn’t gotten a shot at playing time yet, considering what a weakness right tackle has been to date.
The New England Patriots starting right guard could also shift over to right tackle. He has not played there in 2023 but played there exclusive as a rookie in 2020. He played a lot of tackle in 2021 as well, before kicking in to guard full-time. A move back out to tackle could open the door for several options to replace him at right guard, including Reiff, Sow and rookie Atonio Mafi among others.
Onwenu missed the first game of the year with an ankle injury. He has played 100% of the past three games at right guard but hasn’t looked like himself. Against the Cowboys, Onwenu had three costly penalties in the game.
At this point it seems clear that the New England Patriots need an answer at right tackle and that answer is going to need to come from in-house. Quantity of options is not the issue. Now Bill Belichick, Adrian Klemm and Mac Jones are all praying that somebody can display some quality play over there. Replacing Mike Onwenu at guard and having him return to tackle seems to be the best and easiest solution for now.