New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Tackle is a major, major need for the Patriots this year. Realistically, the team may need two starting caliber players at the position – one on each side. Isaiah Wynn is a pending free agent, and Trent Brown is currently in the final year of his contract with cap relief of $7 million to $10 million if the team moves on from him this offseason. As it stands now, the team only has three tackles total under contract for 2023 with Brown joined by Conor McDermott and Andrew Stueber.

Given the current makeup of the position, the more tackles that are available this offseason, the better for the Patriots. As luck would have it, another name was added to that list on Tuesday.

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  • According to Scott Reynolds of Pewter Report, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to release long time left tackle Donovan Smith in the coming weeks. The move will help the Bucs – who are currently projected to be $56.5 million over the salary cap for 2023 – by opening up $9.95 million in cap space.

    Smith, 29, had a bit of a down year last year after seven strong seasons as Tampa’s left tackle. In 2022, he allowed six sacks and was penalized a career-high 13 times 13 games. His 59.3 overall PFF grade and 40.8 run blocking grade were the lowest of his career.

    That drop may have been due to Smith dealing with elbow and foot injuries during the season. The four games missed by the 6-foot-6, 338 pound tackle in 2022 doubled the two total he’d missed over his first seven NFL seasons combined (one in 2019, one in 2020).

    Two years ago, Smith had a career year for Tampa, with a career-best 80.5 PFF grade and 80.1 pass blocking grade. He allowed a career-low four sacks, and was flagged a career-low eight times while playing 1,292 snaps.

  • Even with the down year, Smith still currently projects as the top left tackle in this year’s free agency class. When PFF released their annual list of top 50 free agents earlier this week, they had Orlando Brown Jr. as the top left tackle, but he’s expected to be franchise tagged by Kansas City. The next left tackle on the list is Wynn, who is ranked 57th overall.

    The strength of this free agency class is really at right tackle, with Mike McGlinchey, Jawaan Taylor, and Kaleb McGary highlighting the list. Given the draft depth at left tackle, it would make sense for the Patriots to sign a player on the right side, then draft a player on the left side.

    If the Patriots want to enact that plan in reverse though, that’s now more realistic. They could sign Smith, then pursue a player like Ohio State’s Dawand Jones in the draft. Of course, they’d have to be comfortable that Smith’s down year in 2022 was a one-off, and not a sign of regression due to age.

  • Smith isn’t the only player expected to be released by the Bucs. According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, running back Leonard Fournette’s time in Tampa is also coming to an end. Fournette, 28, met with the Patriots when he was a free agent in 2020 but ended up signing in Tampa. Given the current depth in the Patriots’ running back room, he seems like a less-likely target at this time.

    The Bucs’ salary cuts likely aren’t done either. Other players are expected to be obtainable via trade as Tampa tries to get its cap number down. One player who stands out for the Patriots in that regard is wide receiver Mike Evans.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 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].

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