The New England Patriots selected former Georgia Bulldogs’ left tackle Isaiah Wynn with the 23rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft; a prospect who many thought would have to convert to guard at the next level due to his short (for a left tackle) stature at 6-2. However, the fact that he was announced as a tackle — combined with Nate Solder’s departure in free agency — led many to think that Bill Belichick selected Wynn with the intention of having him take over as Tom Brady’s blindside protector. However, the Patriots then proceeded to trade their third round pick (95th overall) to the San Francisco 49ers for their former starting right tackle, Trent Brown, and a fifth round selection (143rd overall). Brown, who is a great pass protector and a sub-par run blocker, was added to a left tackle competition that also includes Wynn and LaAdrian Waddle.
The timing of these two moves — the Patriots traded for Brown just a day after selecting Wynn — confused me at first. If Wynn was drafted to be the starting left tackle, why would Belichick then trade for another starting-caliber tackle who only has one year left on his contract? As far as I’m concerned, there are three categories of possible explanations: 1) Marcus Cannon’s health is still in question, 2) the Patriots want to have Brown start before having Wynn take over for him and 3) the Patriots actually drafted Wynn to replace soon-to-be-free-agent Shaq Mason. I personally believe number 3 to be the case.
Patriots’ starting right tackle Marcus Cannon battled an ankle injury early on in the 2017 season before eventually landing on injured reserve. Because Cannon is so heavy — he weighs around 330 pounds — it’s possible the Patriots want to take it slow with his recovery instead of rushing him back into the starting lineup. Cannon allegedly played with the injury later in the 2016 campaign, so the coaching staff may not want to risk long-term problems. If so, Brown would be a logical plug-and-play option at the right tackle spot until Cannon returns. Wynn could play left tackle, and Waddle would serve as the backup swing tackle. However, I find it hard to believe that the Patriots would give up a third round pick for someone who would start for less than half of the season while having a capable backup in Waddle.
It’s also possible that the Patriots do not view Waddle as a one-year stop-gap starter and want Brown to start at left tackle to start the 2018 campaign before having Wynn take over for him at some point in this season or next. The fact that Brown only has one year left on his contract lends credence to the idea; I would think that Brown would price himself out of the Patriots’ range when he hits free agency next March. Waddle, who is often injured, could serve as a capable backup tackle while Wynn develops. After all, the Patriots drafted both Sebastian Vollmer in 2009 and Nate Solder in 2011 with the full intention of having them sit for a year before taking over. It’s also possible that the Patriots outright cut Waddle and roll with Brown, Cannon, and Wynn as their tackles for the year.
The option I find most probable is that the Patriots made this pick with an eye towards the future. Starting right guard Shaq Mason is set to be a free agent in 2019 and will likely command a payday of at least $10 million/year. The fact that the Patriots were apparently very interested in C/G Frank Ragnow supports this idea. Belichick appears to have been cutting back on offensive line spending over the past few years in order to free up cap space to spend on other positions. Mason’s new contract likely would have him join Nate Solder and Andrew Norwell as one of the league’s highest paid offensive linemen. The idea behind this theory is that the Patriots will trade Mason to an offensive line-needy team prior to the start of the season while having Wynn take over at right guard and Trent Brown at left tackle. Of course, all of this is just speculation, but it does seem peculiar that the Patriots would draft and trade for two starting-caliber offensive lineman when they only have one vacancy at left tackle. Pay attention to this situation as it unfolds in the coming months.