Most of the Patriots-related attention right now is on their approach to the upcoming NFL Draft and their possible pursuit of a veteran quarterback.
But shortly after the draft they’re going to have to make a couple difficult decisions on their two first-round draft picks from 2018 Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel. New England has until May 3 to decide whether to pick up each player’s fifth-year option, which is based on an escalator system related to player performance and production.
According to multiple reports, Wynn’s option would be worth approximately $10.4 million; Michel’s would be worth $4.5 million.
Each player has given the Pats a different level of performance, and according to The Athletic’s Mike Sando there’s no way the Pats will exercise either option.
Sando wrote about Wynn:
“A torn Achilles tendon, injured toe and injured knee have limited Wynn to 18 games over his first three seasons. That could steer the Patriots away from exercising a fully guaranteed option even though the $10.4 million price tag is appealing for a young left tackle who has shown promise when on the field. How the upcoming draft falls for New England from an offensive line standpoint could influence the decision.”
And on Michel:
“Michel ranks 16th among running backs in rushing yards (2,292) since entering the NFL while missing seven games to injury last season and three more as a rookie. He has not factored much in the receiving game and is not a dynamic threat overall, so it’s difficult to envision Bill Belichick committing guaranteed money to him that far down the road.”
As Sando wrote, the draft will play a big role in determining the Pats’ decisions on Wynn and Michel. Were they to add someone they could take playing time away from Wynn at left tackle or Michel in the backfield, they obviously wouldn’t want to be committed to Wynn or Michel beyond 2021.
In Michel’s case, it’s a no-brainer. His performance hasn’t merited a guaranteed fifth year and he’s not even guaranteed a fourth year in Foxboro. The return of James White kept the Pats’ running back corps crowded, and there’s still time to add in the draft or free agency if the Pats think they can upgrade from Michel.
Wynn’s case takes a little more thinking. Yes, he’s struggled to stay on the field. But before he landed on the NFL Covid-19 list after Week 11 of 2020, he had earned a grade of 82.6 from PFF while being on the field for 63 percent of the Pats’ offensive snaps. He allowed three sacks.
The signing of Trent Brown, who has moved from right tackle to the left side in the past, could put some heat on Wynn this season. But the Pats won’t have the luxury of seeing how Wynn responds to competition in 2021, or if he stays healthy for the first time since reaching the NFL, before they have to make the fifth-year decision. That probably means they’ll be declining Wynn’s option also, meaning they haven’t exercised a fifth-year option since Brandin Cooks in 2014.