FOXBORO — The New England Patriots have stuck with their financial discipline, and with it, have lost both of their top-two free agents following the NFL’s legal tampering period on Monday, according to reports.
Patriots’ left tackle Trent Brown is set to become the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history with the Oakland Raiders while New England defensive end Trey Flowers has reportedly agreed to join his former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions.
It is not completely unexpected, but is it ideal?
There was no chance the Patriots were going to match the four-year, $66 million deal that Oakland offered Brown. It features $36.75 million in guaranteed money, far too much for the Patriots. New England signaled that when they opted against putting the franchise tag on Brown, which would have paid him $14.06 million in 2019, just last week.
As for Flowers, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that his contract with the Lions will be a five-year deal. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport believed it will eclipse $16 million per year. Flowers’ market was highly inflated over the past week when several other elite free agents at his position were retained via the franchise tag and New England chose not to contend. Jeff Howe of The Athletic reported the offer from Detroit was “significantly better” than that from New England.
This is not the first time the Patriots have had scenarios like this when it comes to trading or losing key pieces due to financial situations. And admittedly, they have been just fine in the past. It’s led them on a two-decade run.
But will it be the same this time?
Flowers led New England in sacks and quarterback hits each of the past three seasons. During the 2018-19 season, Flowers amassed 7.5 sacks, 20 quarterback hits and 57 tackles, prior adding two sacks and a half-dozen quarterback hits in the postseason. Pro Football Focus ranked Flowers as the No. 6 edge defender in the league this past season. He is the only Patriot since 2006 to have 20 or more quarterback hits in consecutive seasons.
Off the field, Flowers did not cause any issues. He was a homegrown piece — drafted and developed by coach Bill Belichick and Co. He was loved by the media, who he spoke with at least once, and more likely twice a week, and respected by his teammates in the locker room. In a league where it frequently seems the person, as well as the player, is worth investing in, Flowers was thought to be that type of professional.
Only time will tell.
On the other hand, the Patriots made the smart play in letting Brown walk. His circumstance does feel more cut and dry and the biggest reason is offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Undoubtedly, Brown was a key piece in the Patriots’ run to Super Bowl LIIII. But it’s the second time in as many years that a former Patriots’ left tackle earned a record-setting deal elsewhere. Nate Solder signed a four-year, $60-plus million deal with the New York Giants last year. The Patriots let somebody else pay for it.
It’s essentially what they’ve done again. Rather than have Brown on the books for $14 million in 2021 and $15.25 in 2022 (the amount he will receive in Oakland), they let him walk after starting all 19 games at left tackle. The Patriots got Brown and a fifth-round pick (which turned into Ja’Whaun Bentley) for a third-round pick.
According to Pro Football Focus, Raiders’ tackles allowed 30 sacks in pass protection last season — the most in the NFL. Meanwhile, Brown surrendered just three sacks in 580 pass blocking snaps.
Now that Brown is gone, they’ll get a compensatory third-round pick in return. They won the trade and will now let someone else pay Brown.
More than anything, perhaps it shows a well-earned trust in Scarnecchia. He molded Matt Light, Solder and, most recently, Brown so the Patriots are confident that Scarnecchia can do it again in 2019 with last year’s first-round pick, Isaiah Wynn.
The 6-foot-2, 310-pound Wynn tore his Achilles during the preseason and missed the entire year. He was drafted No. 23 overall out of the University of Georgia and was thought to be a main piece of the Solder succession plan before his injury.
The signings of both Flowers and Brown will become official when NFL free agency begins on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Teams may contact and enter into contract negotiations with certified agents of unrestricted free agents up until then.