Shaky offensive line play has been more than a minor irritation for the New England Patriots through three games of the 2023 NFL season. Part of the problem stems from veteran left tackle Trent Brown no longer being a dominant blocker, one reason the Pats have been urged to replace the 30-year-old with Dallas Cowboys’ eight-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith in 2024.
The suggestion comes from Bleacher Report, with the site touting Smith as the ideal stop-gap after Brown’s deal is done at the end of this season: “Signing Smith and hoping they can get another season or two out of him while developing a future plan at the position could be a good move for New England.”
There are a couple of notable caveats about the Patriots pursuing two-time, first-team All-Pro Smith in free agency next March, even though his “market is likely to be depressed.” B/R emphasizes the 32-year-old’s “age and injury history” as the primary concerns.
Those things are potential red flags, but a healthy Smith is still more accomplished than any other member of the Patriots’ makeshift offensive front.
Brittle but Brilliant Veteran Ideal for Pats
Injuries continue to blight Smith, who missed Week 3’s 28-16 defeat to the Arizona Cardinals with a knee problem. Smith was on the sideline, despite being active, according to Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams.
He’s now missed 34 games the last three-plus seasons with various ailments, but when healthy Smith is good enough to still be the focal point of any blocking scheme. He proved as much by remaining stout in pass protection against the New York Jets in Week 2, per Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus.
By contrast, Brown remains solid, but he’s still allowed two pressures and a sack during 151 snaps at left tackle. The 6-foot-8, 370-pounder’s game is often defined by what he does clearing the way for running backs, but Smith is arguably an equal force on the ground.
Brown is the Patriots’ last proven commodity in the trenches, so Smith makes sense as a replacement. Especially since the Pats lack a “contingency plan” at left tackle, even after using three picks on linemen during the 2023 NFL draft.
Injuries and Inconsistency Stretching the Patriots Up Front
A significant injury list has undermined a new-look line’s efforts so far this season. Brown returned from a concussion to face the Jets, while guards Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu started together for only the second time after missing Week 1’s 25-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Unfortunately, Sow was added to the injury report with a concussion prior to the Jets game. He joined right tackle Riley Reiff, who is on injured reserve after a hurting his knee during preseason.
Reiff’s absence has left Vederian Lowe, a former sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, who moved to New England in a trade, to fill in on the right side. Lowe has allowed a sack and is graded at 49.2 by PFF.
While Lowe is struggling, his issues are compounded by Strange joining the ranks of the walking wounded. The interior lineman was forced off at MetLife Stadium with a knee problem.
Belichick will be aware of how injuries are mounting in front of quarterback Mac Jones, but the Patriots have options ahead of waiting for 2024 to sign Smith. One intriguing choice would be to add Smith’s former Cowboys’ teammate La’el Collins.
The latter is healthy again after tearing his ACL against the Patriots in Week 16 last season. Collins passed a physical on Monday, September 25, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who noted how the experienced blocker is “expected to soon find work.”
Ex-Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott has already talked up a reunion with Collins at Gillette Stadium. It would make sense since he’s taken snaps at right tackle and left guard during a seven-year career.
Regardless of whether the Patriots sign Collins, there’s already been enough upheaval along the line for Belichick to start planning now how he’ll upgrade the unit next offseason. Trusting Smith to get back on track is one of the better ideas.