By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
As the Patriots begin to rebuild in the 2021 offseason, it’s crucial they keep at least a handful of players from their last dominant run around, to help maintain the winning culture that made the team an NFL juggernaut for 20 years. While the roster may need a facelift, it’s important that in doing so, the Patriot Way isn’t totally scrubbed from the building.
The Patriots would go a long way in accomplishing that task by making sure to lock up David Andrews, who is currently a pending free agent. Andrews is a four-time captain who has played just five years in the league. On top of that he’s proven to be a dedicated leader, acting in a pseudo-coach role when he missed the entire 2019 season, and four games in 2020. When he was unavailable, Andrews stayed with the team, working with the active linemen both in games and during practices.
Of course Andrews isn’t just a valued leader, he’s also a very good player. Without Andrews in the lineup, the Patriots averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Upon his return in 2020, that number increased an entire yard to 4.7, despite the offense becoming more one-dimensional in favor of the ground game.
Andrews contributes in the passing game as well, namely as a pre-snap communicator. With the Patriots likely turning to a young quarterback in the near future, having his kind of experience up front would be a huge help.
What would it take for the Patriots to retain Andrews’ services? Let’s look at the context. Ryan Kelly is the highest-paid center in football in terms of AAV, making $12.4 million a year. Behind him, there’s six players all making between $10.5 and $11.5 million per year. All of the players in that group are between 28 and 32 years old - Andrews will be 29 by the time training camp rolls around.
It’s likely Andrews eventual deal will come in on the higher end of that group, even if he’s willing to take a hometown discount (which seems likely given his final press conference of the year). For sake of argument, let’s say his number is $11.3 million. That would - pending any major signings in free agency - make him one of the highest-paid players on the Patriots. Among those under contract for 2021, only Stephon Gilmore ($13 million) and Devin McCourty ($11.5 million) have higher AAVs.
The flipside of that is that Bill Belichick has never been afraid to make linemen some of the highest-paid players on his roster. Entering 2020, three of the Patriots’ 10 highest AAV contracts were offensive linemen. Joe Thuney paced the group, with his franchise tag costing just under $14.8 million. Shaq Mason’s $9 million a year deal was the fourth highest on the team, and Marcus Cannon, before opting out, was due to have the eighth-highest AAV at $6.5 million.
With multiple spots on the offensive line likely to be filled by players on rookie scale (read: cheaper) deals in coming years, it makes sense for the Patriots to shell out a little more for Andrews. He’ll provide a steady veteran presence, helping those players grow while solidifying the middle of the offensive line.
Of course, Joe Thuney could do the same, and is also a free agent. There’s a good chance it comes down to ‘pick one’ for the Patriots. Keep in mind, the team has a talented young tackle in Michael Onwenu who looks ready to be an NFL starter, and would be blocked by the combination of Thuney and Mason, both who would be locked up long term. Meanwhile, Andrews would be a few million dollars cheaper, and the Patriots currently don’t have a better option to start at center.
Among the Patriots’ pending unrestricted free agents, Andrews should be one of, if not the highest priority. Will the Patriots open up the checkbook for a valued leader and quality player? Or will it be another offseason of franchise-cornerstones getting away?
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].