Among the list of shortcomings in New England this season, the team’s tackle position — a concern during the offseason — has seen its expected starters run into health shortcomings. Riley Reiff played in just one game during the most injury-plagued season of his career, and Trent Brown has seen injuries intervene once again.
In Year 3 of his second Patriots stint, Brown has missed five games. Ankle and knee injuries have hampered the Pats’ starting left tackle, but some internal frustration with the big-bodied blocker has developed within the building, according to the Boston Sports Journal’s Mike Giardi.
Brown, 30, has not started a game since Dec. 3, though he has played in two since that contest while missing two more during this span. The Patriots removed Brown from their injury report last week but made him a healthy scratch. Indicating some believe he has prioritized — as this season has gone south — making it to free agency healthy, Giardi adds (via NESN.com) Brown has also caused issues with tardiness. It does not look like Brown will be re-signed before free agency, and the Boston Herald’s Doug Kyed points to a likely separation taking place soon.
“We already had that opportunity. We have had plenty of opportunities to get that done,” Brown said of a Patriots extension, via Sophie Weller of A to Z Sports. “I mean, I’m not opposed to it, but we are at the end of the season. … It’d be kind of like, I feel like I’d be kind of doing myself a disservice to not see what other opportunities are out there, just at this point.”
After working as the Pats’ left tackle on their Super Bowl LIII-winning team, Brown did remarkably well as a free agent back in 2019. The Raiders gave him a then-tackle-record four-year, $66MM accord. Brown made the 2019 Pro Bowl, but a COVID-19-marred 2020 season — a campaign in which he played five games — led to the Raiders trading him back to the Patriots. Playing both left and right tackle since returning to Foxborough, Brown has started 33 games in his second Pats stint.
The Patriots have Brown on a two-year, $13MM deal that features weight bonuses and playing-time incentives. The team added the usage-based bumps this year, but Brown’s health issues have impeded him on that front. The former 49ers draftee also expected the Patriots to give him another contract after last season, when he played 17 games. Nothing transpired, and the ninth-year tackle is two months from free agency.
“It would have been done when they said it was going to get done. When I signed the last one,” Brown said, via Weller, of his contract. “The one I signed two years ago, I was told that I would, if I had a good year then I would; we should get it fixed. It never happened.”
Pro Football Focus grades Brown as this season’s No. 10 overall tackle. Even considering his unreliability with regards to health, the 370-pound lineman will be poised to generate interest once again on the market. As of now, Brown is positioned to join Jonah Williams, Tyron Smith, Mekhi Becton and Patriots teammate Michael Onwenu as notable tackles in free agency. Brown and Onwenu departing would give the Pats work to do up front, as both have been regulars for years.
Onwenu may generate interest at two positions, considering he has spent extensive time at both tackle and guard as a pro. The former sixth-round pick has been a regular Pats starter for most of his career, but he said (via ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss) extension discussions have not picked up. Onwenu said discussions have taken place, but it does not sound like they have been substantive. While mentioned in trade rumors before the deadline, Onwenu joined contract-year cogs Kyle Dugger and Josh Uche in being retained. All are weeks away from free agency.
With Reiff unavailable, the Patriots kicked Onwenu back outside midway through this season. PFF rates the Michigan product in the top 30 among tackles. Although the Pats have paid for their offensive deficiencies in the form of a 4-12 season, they have seen productive tackle play — when Brown is available, that is. The team has until the March legal tampering period to keep Brown and/or Onwenu off the market. Not doing so will obviously create major needs up front. It remains to be seen if Bill Belichick will be making those decisions.