Fifth in a position-by-position series
David Andrews is a football player’s football player.
When Central Casting calls for an offensive lineman, the Patriots center checks all the boxes: scraggly beard, barrel chest, brilliant mullet, and, of course, a propensity for hitting everything in sight.
After missing the 2019 season because of blood clots in his lungs, Andrews bounced back with another solid season in 2020, the guiding force on an offensive line that performed well despite a series of injuries that led to multiple fluctuations.
A smart and technically sound player with outstanding knowledge of the offense and how to adjust blocking schemes and protections, Andrews also shows excellent pop and power.
Andrews, a captain four years running, is a free agent, and retaining the 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pounder — one of the most underrated undrafted players in franchise history — likely is a top offseason priority.
The Patriots need to sort out their quarterback situation first and foremost, but locking up the guy who gets the ball to the guy is important as well.
There are other questions the club needs to answer along the offensive line; here’s a look at some of the non-draft options the Patriots could consider:
The 2020 Patriots
C Andrews, G Joe Thuney, G Shaq Mason, T Isaiah Wynn, T Jermaine Eluemunor, G/T Mike Onwenu, T Justin Herron, T Korey Cunningham, C/G James Ferentz, C/G Marcus Martin, T Yodny Cajuste.
Thuney: A remarkably durable, consistent, and productive player through his first six seasons. Was poised to cash in last offseason as a free agent when the club franchised him. Thuney is in the same position now, though it’d be a surprise if he were tagged again. He’ll have plenty of suitors.
Mason: Another durable road grader, Mason is under contract through 2024. It’s possible his contract (worth approximately $9 million per year) is tweaked.
Wynn: The left tackle has been nicked up a lot through three seasons, but when healthy, he’s been solid in protecting the blind side.
Eluemunor: He proved to be a versatile and valuable veteran, hopping into several spots along the line. He started the season at right tackle and finished it at left tackle. A free agent; a return is a definite possibility.
Onwenu: Sixth-rounder was one of the best rookie performers regardless of position in 2020. Quickly went from building block to block of granite. Bill Belichick said the club will do a deep offseason dive on whether Onwenu’s future is at tackle or guard, but there’s no question his future is now.
Herron: Another sixth-rounder, he too figures to be a regular contributor and possible starter for the foreseeable future.
Cunningham: An affordable backup with experience, he’s under contract through 2022 and will have a chance to compete for a spot in camp.
Ferentz: Pending free agent has been a good soldier the last few seasons, filling in admirably along the interior. Could be in line for another camp invite.
Martin: Another free agent-to-be, he was brought in as insurance late in 2020 and could get a chance to battle in camp.
Cajuste: Hasn’t been able to get on the field through two seasons. Has two years left to prove he belongs in the tackle rotation.
T Marcus Cannon.
Cannon will be entering his 10th season and has two years left on his deal. He played at a high level the last four seasons and if he decides to return, will push the young bucks.
The free agents
C Alex Mack, Ted Karras; G Brandon Scherff, Jon Feliciano; T Trent Williams, Russell Okung.
Mack: He’s a bit long in the tooth at 36 but would provide a nice short-term solution should Andrews leave in free agency.
Karras: Maybe the smartest brawler in the league, he would fit right in after spending the first four years of his career in New England.
Scherff: Ornery and aggressive player who explodes off the ball and will punish everything in his way. This behemoth will be highly sought-after by the same clubs gunning for Thuney.
Feliciano: Another player with a nasty disposition on the field, he is coming off the best season of his six-year run. He helped solidify the Bills line in front of Josh Allen and can bump to center if needed. Is sneaky explosive and locks on to defenders with vise-grip hands.
Williams: He might have the best highlight tape in the league, as it’s filled with him just manhandling dudes silly enough to line up across from him. Williams has been playing like a junkyard dog for a decade but still possesses the energy of a young pup.
Okung: An effortless athlete who backpedals quickly and will engulf pass rushers and keep his quarterback clean. Also has the strength and sneaky speed to be a run-game enforcer.
The bottom line: With needs in a lot of other areas (quarterback, receiver, linebacker), it would be a surprise if the Patriots invested a ton of salary-cap money here, given the depth and youth already on the roster.