Hannable: Why move Patriots made in late August is so important right now

Ryan Hannable
February 17, 2019 - 10:26 pm

It was Aug. 27 of last year and with the season fast approaching, many were focused on the initial 53-man roster and Week 1 against the Texans, so it was taken a bit for granted and didn’t get the attention it deserved.

Right guard Shaq Mason, who was going to be a free agent this offseason, signed a five-year extension worth $45 million. This not only meant he's signed for a long time, but also that he would not get to free agency and hit the open market.

“I wasn’t really putting too much thought into it, really, because we’re still in training camp,” Mason said at the time. “So I’ve been out there working. But it was a blessing, for sure.”

He added: “It’s definitely a good thing to get done. But just moving forward, I’m trying to focus on the season. That’s over and done with now. We’ve got practice tomorrow.”

Even Mason himself was downplaying the move, but the Patriots are certainly thankful right now they got that deal done six months ago.

As free agency quickly approaches, the team has roughly $20 million in cap space to play with, which means it obviously cannot just sign everyone and has to pick and choose. It appears the organization will need to choose between offensive tackle Trent Brown and defensive end Trey Flowers, as it doesn’t have the money to retain both.

So, imagine if Mason wasn’t locked up before the season… 

Then, the team would likely be faced with deciding between Mason, Brown and Flowers. Instead of potentially retaining two of the three, only one likely would have been possible. It’s also worth noting the team likely saved some money by getting Mason’s deal done before he hit the open market. The 25-year-old is one of the best guards in the entire league, and certainly could have received more than the $9 million per year he signed for back in August from other teams. As of now, he’s the eighth-highest paid guard in the NFL, even though he was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded guard for the 2018 regular season.

Mason in all likelihood would have been the player the Patriots made sure to retain with not much depth at the interior line position. With Mason locked up, the Patriots’ No. 1 priority seems to be Flowers. Brown, a 25-year-old tackle coming off the year he had in his first season in New England, is likely going to get a contract well beyond where the Patriots would be willing to go, and there’s also a fallback option in Isaiah Wynn.

It’s also important to note the other needs of the team that need to be addressed — wide receiver, tight end, defensive line. If Mason was a free agent, it would have also likely impacted the Patriots’ chances of upgrading all these positions as well.

The Patriots signing players before they hit free agency is something that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Mason isn’t the first time that it has occurred. It happened just a few years ago with right tackle Marcus Cannon and also running back James White.

When it comes to the long-lasting success of the franchise, this is one of the more underrated aspects. Certainly, it doesn’t come close to having Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, but the way the team approaches free agency with the ability to save a few million here and there make it possible to build consistent winning teams year after year. 

Even though Mason’s extension was six months ago, the Patriots were already getting a jumpstart on their offseason and now they are reaping the benefits.

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