Patriots roster breakdown: Will Shaq Mason return to his 2018 form this year?
With one month to go until they are scheduled to report to training camp, the New England Patriots currently have the league-allowed maximum of 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with a starting member of New England’s offensive line.
Name: Shaq Mason
Jersey number: 69
Opening day age: 27
Size: 6-foot-2, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2023 (2024 UFA)
What is his experience? After playing both left and right guard during his four-year college career at Georgia Tech, Mason heard his name called during the NFL’s 2015 draft: the Patriots picked him with the 131st overall selection in the fourth round — an investment that paid major dividends for the club in the years to come. Mason’s potential was already on full display during his rookie season, when he earned a starting spot at left guard before being moved to the right side of the formation for the playoffs.
While the youngster did experience some growing pains coming from the Yellow Jackets’ run-first offensive system, he quickly made strides in this area of his game as well to develop into one of the most intriguing interior offensive linemen in football. As such, he went on to help New England win two Super Bowls as the team’s top option at the right guard position — all while appearing in 75 regular season games as well as 12 playoff contests, a combined 82 of which as a member of the Patriots’ starting lineup.
Mason’s impressive development since his 2015 rookie campaign may not have earned him any individual accolades such as Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition just yet, but it did lead to New England rewarding him with a multi-year contract extension ahead of the 2018 season: while still on his rookie contract, Mason signed a five-year, $50 million pact and quickly went on to play the best football of his career en route to earning his second championship ring.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off said Super Bowl run — one that saw the New England offensive line play some of the most impressive football in recent memory along the way — Mason returned filling his usual spot as a starter along the Patriots’ offensive line. Unlike the previous season, when he was among the best and most consistent interior linemen in the entire league, however, Mason’s play in 2019 was a bit more up-and-down and overall not on the same All-Pro-worthy level.
While still very good and arguably a top-10 guard in the NFL, Mason showed some uncharacteristic inconsistencies as both a run blocker and a pass protector. In the passing game, he gave up a combined 20 quarterback pressures: the fifth-year man surrendered three sacks as well as five hits and 12 additional hurries. He also was not quite his usual impressive self in the running game: New England’s running backs averaged just 3.7 yards per carry when running behind the right guard spot (285 yards on 77 attempts).
On top of it all, Mason also was penalized five times for infractions: he was guilty of three holds, one false start, and one ineligible-man-downfield flag. Not all of the blame falls on the veteran blocker, though. After all, he also had to adapt to playing next to Ted Karras, who replaced David Andrews after the starting center was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs. Add a nagging ankle injury that forced Mason to sit out the Patriots’ Week 8 game against the Cleveland Browns, and you can see why 2019 was a challenging year for him.
Despite his inconsistencies, however, Mason still proved himself a reliable contributor as well as a durable piece of an offensive line that saw some major personnel fluctuations at the left tackle and center spots: all in all, the Georgia Tech product was on the field in 15 of 16 regular season contests as well as the Patriots’ lone playoff game. Lining up exclusively at right guard, he played 1,128 of a possible 1,210 offensive snaps (93.2%) — ranking third on the squad behind only left guard Joe Thuney’s 1,201 and quarterback Tom Brady’s 1,196.
Furthermore, Mason played his usual role as a protector on kicking attempts. As such, he took the field 71 out of a possible 474 times in 2019 for a special teams playing time share of 15 percent.
What is his projected role? Ever since his rookie season, Mason has been an integral member of the Patriots’ offensive line. He is therefore also expected to do the same heading into the 2020 season. As New England’s starter at right guard, he will hardly ever leave the field once again while also playing a pivotal role in both the running and the passing game: Mason is a key part of combination blocks both on the outside and the interior, serving as a pull-blocker, and capable of winning one-on-ones on a regular basis as well no matter if the team uses a zone or a man blocking scheme.
What is his special teams value? While Mason’s role on the offensive side of the ball is the most prominent, his special teams contributions cannot be underestimated as well: lining up as the left guard on field goal and extra point attempts, he has proven himself a valuable member of the Patriots’ kicking game. Mason has held a similar role ever since arriving in New England in 2015, and it is not expected to change this year.
Does he have positional versatility? Even though Mason has played exclusively at right guard going back to the 2016 season, he does bring some positional versatility to the table. During his 2015 rookie campaign, he did not just start 10 games as the Patriots’ left guard — a role now held by Joe Thuney — but also lined up in the backfield from the fullback position as well as an tackle eligible outside the right tackle. But while Mason is versatile in theory, New England no longer uses him in this fashion.
What is his salary cap situation? As part of the contract extension he signed with the Patriots in 2018, Mason currently hits the team’s books with a salary cap number of $8.71 million — the sixth highest on the team and reflective of his status as a starting member of the offense. That said, New England could opt to lower his cap impact by converting parts of his fully guaranteed $5 million salary into a signing bonus to spread out over the remainder of the deal.
What is his roster outlook? Mason’s play in 2019 may not have been on quite the same level as it was the year before, but he is still a major part of the Patriots’ offensive operation and blocking schemes both in the running and the passing game. As such, he is a lock to make the roster to provide the team’s new starting quarterback — be it Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer — with the best offensive line possible. Mason will be a part of this lineup, so the biggest question is whether or not he can return to his usual form this year. Given that Andrews will be back and his ankle injury fully healed, all signs are currently pointing to yes.