While the 2021 NFL Draft is in the rear-view mirror, teams cannot start sitting back and relax just yet. Undrafted free agents need to get signed — in most cases at least — while the voluntary offseason workout program and rookie minicamp are also either already underway or coming up soon. On top of it all, clubs will also have to make decisions about any first-round picks they might have brought aboard back in the 2018 draft.
Monday, after all, is deadline day for teams to pick up the fifth-year options in their respective rookie deals. If exercised those players will remain under contract through 2022, whereas otherwise they would be scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency next spring.
The New England Patriots have two players falling into this category: offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn and running back Sony Michel. As of Monday morning, no decisions have been made either way.
With those coming up, let’s take a look at the two players and try to make educated guesses about what the Patriots will do.
OT Isaiah Wynn
Cost of the fifth-year option (2022): $10.413 million
Why the Patriots should pick up the fifth-year option: Wynn, who was selected with the 23rd overall pick obtained as part of the Brandin Cooks trade to Los Angeles, has looked like a bona fide offensive tackle whenever on the field. As the Patriots’ starter at the left tackle position ever since the 2019 season, he has shown all the tools necessary to become an elite player at the position and hold down the fort for years to come.
While undersized at 6-foot-3, his technique is as good as you will find while he also has the necessary short-area quickness and play strength to hold his own when going one-on-one against edge rusher or paving the way in the running game. Finding competent tackle play is not an easy thing to do, and with the Patriots not selecting a player at the position until the sixth round of the draft this year — Colorado’s William Sherman — keeping him long-term might be the best course of action.
Why the Patriots should decline the fifth-year option: For as good as Wynn has looked when in the lineup, staying on the field has been a major issue for the 25-year-old. He appeared in only 19 of 52 games since entering the league in 2018 and has spent time on injured reserve in each of his first three seasons as a pro: he tore his Achilles tendon a few snaps into his first preseason game, dealt with a turf toe issue in Year 2, and last season hurt his knee in late November.
Wynn did not have a noteworthy injury history before joining the Patriots, and missed only, one of 41 possible starts over his final three years at the University of Georgia. However, he has not been able to build on this momentum upon entering the NFL.
Projection: The Patriots are not the sentimental types, which could be bad news for Wynn. He has shown that he can be a starting-caliber tackle against NFL competition, but his inability to stay on the field has been a major problem in each of the last two seasons. As Bill Belichick has stated before availability can be more important than ability, and it would therefore not be a surprise if New England decided against picking up Wynn’s fifth-year option.
RB Sony Michel
Cost of the fifth-year option (2022): $4.523 million
Why the Patriots should pick up the fifth-year option: In his first year after joining the Patriots as the 31st pick in the 2018 draft, Michel immediately carved out a prominent role in the Patriots’ offensive backfield. Serving as the team’s early-down and short-yardage back, he picked up 931 yards on the ground during the regular season and followed it up with one of the best rushing performances in NFL playoff history: his 336 and six touchdowns played a crucial role in New England winning the Super Bowl that year.
While Michel failed to reach those same levels of productivity over the last two years, he looked good when on the field. Just take the 2020 season: he appeared in just nine games because of injury, but still gained a pretty good 449 yards on his 79 rushing attempts. His 5.7 yards per carry was tops on the team among players who carried the football more than twice. On top of it all, he also showed some improved pass catching ability.
Why the Patriots should decline the fifth-year option: Not only has the running back position decreased in value over the last two decades, New England also appears to be well equipped to move forward without the 26-year-old. Not only did Damien Harris emerge as a viable lead back during the 2020 season — he led the club in carries and yards — the Patriots also drafted Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round over the weekend.
Michel also has missed a combined 10 games over the course of his three years in the NFL so far. Dealing with nagging knee issues and later also suffering a quad injury, he has not been as reliably available as the Patriots might want out of a prominent member of their offense.
Projection: Michel’s fifth-year option getting exercises was a major long-shot even before the team drafted the aforementioned Rhamondre Stevenson. With the Oklahoma product now in the fold to possibly take over the early-down snaps further down the line, it seems all but certain that Michel will be heading into his final season under contract. In fact, he might even be a candidate to be moved via trade at one point depending on how Stevenson performs over the course of training camp and the preseason.