Longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is officially calling it a career. The legendary offensive line coach announced his retirement on Tuesday, and the Patriots now have a huge hole to fill on their coaching staff. Outside of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, one could argue that Scarnecchia was the most important part of New England’s 20-year run of dominance. Maintaining continuity on the offensive line without Scarnecchia won’t be easy, but it can be done if the Patriots make the right moves.
How the New England Patriots Can Survive the Dante Scarnecchia Retirement
Promote From Within
This obviously isn’t the first time Dante Scarnecchia has retired. Scarnecchia took a two-year hiatus from 2014 to 2015, and New England didn’t have an in-house replacement. The Patriots normally promote from within but instead decided to bring in Dave Deguglielmo to fill Scarnecchia’s shoes.
The results weren’t great. Even though New England won the Super Bowl and made an AFC Championship Game without Scarnecchia, the offensive line took a major step back. Deguglielmo isn’t a bad coach on his own, but he taught a different technique that didn’t play to the strengths of the existing roster talent. Given the benefit of hindsight, the Patriots should have had somebody waiting in the wings to take Scarnecchia’s job.
Nobody is better at learning from their mistakes than the Patriots, and they appear to have an ideal in-house candidate. According to Bernd Buchmasser of Pats Pulpit, Carmen Bricillo spent 2019 working alongside Scarnecchia and has experience as an offensive line coach at the collegiate level. The Patriots are going to have to adjust to life without Scarnecchia, but hiring Bricillo will ease that transition.
Re-sign Joe Thuney
Earlier in the offseason, I wrote an article detailing why the Patriots should move on from Joe Thuney. Part of my rationale revolved around New England’s historical ability to draft and develop offensive linemen at an elite rate. There wasn’t a point in handing out a lucrative contract to Thuney when you could get adequate production from a cheaper Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt, or a mid-round rookie.
All of that goes out the window without Scarnecchia. New England’s offensive line wasn’t anything to write home about last year but took a major step forward with a healthy Isaiah Wynn. The Patriots have two solid tackles and an elite right guard in Shaq Mason. Everything else is completely up in the air. David Andrews missed all of 2019 with blood clots in his lungs and might not be his old self when he returns, and New England’s offensive line depth leaves a lot to be desired.
Re-signing Thuney essentially gives the Patriots the same offensive line they had in 2018, except with Isaiah Wynn replacing Trent Brown at left tackle. Without Scarnecchia, the Patriots can’t just bank on turning their next third-round guard into an All-Pro caliber player. Whether it’s Tom Brady or Jarrett Stidham under center in 2020, New England is going to want the best protection possible for their quarterback. Re-signing Thuney is the best way to do that.
Draft More Offensive Linemen Without Dante Scarnecchia
The Patriots need to improve their offensive line depth. Right now, the top swing tackle on the roster appears to be Yodny Cajuste. The rookie missed the entirety of 2019 recovering from what should have been a three-month quad injury. He should be healthy for 2020, but it’s anyone’s guess as to what he can do in the NFL.
With Ted Karras and Joe Thuney both hitting free agency, there is a chance that 2019 fourth-round pick Hjalte Froholdt is the starting left guard during OTA’s. Frohodlt missed his rookie season with a case of the Foxboro Flu and struggled in the preseason. Froholdt can obviously improve from that uninspiring preseason, but he shouldn’t be New England’s top option at guard.
David Andrews should be back, but he might not be his old self. Blood clots are obviously a severe injury, and it might take time for the former undrafted free agent to find his old form. Andrews is one of the best in the league when he’s at full strength, but the Patriots need to prepare in case he’s not ready to go.
The 2020 free agent pool leaves a lot to be desired, so New England should build through the draft. The Patriots currently have one pick in the first round and three picks in the third. Assuming the state of the offensive line doesn’t dramatically change between now and then, New England should trade their first-round pick for a later first- and a mid-round pick. From there, New England should draft an offensive lineman with one of their first two picks and another one in the later rounds.
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