The first rule of an undefeated season is that we don’t talk about an undefeated season — at least until Thanksgiving. It’s tantalizing to imagine what historical heights this Patriots team can scale after a dominant start, but the entire NFL season is football free climbing. It takes only one false move to lose your grip on perfection.
Along those lines, it takes only one false step by an offensive lineman to get your iconic quarterback hurt. And Tom Brady did show up on the injury report Wednesday as limited in practice because of a calf issue.
If you’re looking for a weak spot on a team with perfect form, it would be Brady’s blind side. The Patriots had to put starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn on injured reserve Tuesday with a toe injury.
Wynn, who missed his entire rookie season with a torn Achilles’ tendon, suffered this latest injury Sunday in the 43-0 demolition of the Miami Dolphins. He will miss at least eight weeks before he’s eligible to return from IR.
The Patriots are already in all-in-at-all-cost mode with the (distasteful) addition of Antonio Brown. Rather than getting Brady killed, they should embrace overkill and their role as dreaded NFL overlords by trading for disgruntled Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams. The seven-time Pro Bowler, entrenched in a protracted holdout, could be the latest Hoodie Hessian. He’s fed up with life at FedEx Field and a Redskins organization that is more dysfunctional and less effective than Congress.
Left tackle is not a position you leave to chance. The Patriots took a winding road filled with retirements and injuries to reach this point at left tackle. That doesn’t matter now. What does is making sure that the blind side doesn’t become a visible weakness on a team with few if any of them.
Reportedly miffed about his medical treatment and his monetary compensation, Williams has refused to play for the Redskins. Or maybe he just likes to boycott bad football. The obstinate Sons of Daniel Snyder have refused to deal him. It’s a bitter standoff, and the Patriots can step in and reap the benefits.
Full disclosure: When Williams’s name was floated as being connected to the Patriots back during the summer, I endorsed . . . passing on a deal for the pass protector. The Patriots needed to see whether Wynn, a 2018 first-rounder, could man the fort and stay on the field.
Williams is 31 and wouldn’t come cheap — in terms of either compensation to acquire him or pay. (He carries a $10.85 million base salary for this season.)
Williams is widely regarded as one of the best left tackles in the game. His ability is not in question. His availability can be, however.
He hasn’t played all 16 games since 2013. He has missed 13 games in the last three seasons because of injury and suspension. He has twice been suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, although his most recent ban in 2016 was for missing, not failing, a drug test, according to the Washington Post.
But circumstances have changed, and these are venial sins in comparison to Brown’s considerable behavioral baggage. The AFC field looks weaker than a wet tissue. Even by their lofty standards, these Patriots look indomitable. They’ll be sweeping the leg all season long.
Fort Foxborough needs to fire all of its guns in pursuit of Lombardi Trophy No. 7 because there’s no guarantee Bill and Tom’s Excellent Adventure extends to a 21st season. Or that Mr. Wynn can stay healthy.
Why leave anything to chance with a team this good on paper?
Well, because the Belichick Patriots can get away with it. They’ve survived with Logan Mankins, Marcus Cannon, and LaAdrian Waddle taking emergency stints at left tackle over the years.
That’s the downside of the dynasty. You can always make do for double-digit wins even when you should pursue a more stable fix.
The Patriots, already without starting right tackle Cannon (shoulder injury), persevered with New England neophytes Marshall Newhouse and Korey Cunningham at left and right tackle, respectively, on Sunday. They could have put Richie Cunningham at tackle and dominated against the inept Fins.
Gruff assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia is an O-line alchemist. That’s one of the reasons out-of-work tackle/guard Caleb Benenoch chose to join the Patriots Tuesday for a career resurrection.
But do the Patriots really want the fate of their season and their 42-year-old franchise quarterback resting on the shoulders of recycled offensive linemen? Do they want to shift their best lineman, Joe Thuney, to left tackle and potentially weaken two spots, especially with Thuney serving as a Sherpa for backup center Ted Karras?
Too much change is a bad thing when you’re missing 40 percent of your intended offensive line.
Belichick has often said that when you move a player from a spot where he excels to plug a hole at another spot, you can end up weakening your team twice.
Thuney received lots of reps at left tackle during the offseason and training camp. He can do it, but in his absence in the interior, the floodgates might open up the middle, which would be a bigger issue for Brady.
The Redskins have to realize by now that Williams isn’t coming back. Persistent scuttlebutt out of the nation’s capital has already indicated that the Patriots checked on Williams over the summer.
New England has to create the cap room. The Patriots have about $2.04 million in cap space. Williams has a $10.85 million base salary. But that amount would be prorated by however many weeks he is on an active roster.
Williams is signed through 2020, but he has no guaranteed money left. So the Patriots could walk away after this season. They also could lower Williams’s 2019 cap hit by converting some of his salary to guaranteed bonus money and prorating it over the remaining two years on his deal, a win-win.
In terms of trade cost, Williams would be a pricey rental. It might take a first-round pick — a steep price for an over-30 player with just two years of team control. It would require at least a second-rounder, unless Belichick can fleece Washington.
But history and another Lombardi are priceless. The Patriots are too loaded to let a pass-rusher unload on Brady while they work out a left tackle solution.
Trent in the trenches for the Patriots needs to happen for winning them all to be a side dish topic at the Thanksgiving table.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.