The Patriots head into free agency this offseason with a whopping 26 players set to test the market, many of whom have become mainstays on the team and should be priorities to re-sign. Because of that, teams around the league will be very interested in trying to whisk them away from New England and pay them the big bucks, something Jerod Mayo will have to be willing to do in some cases.
Of the over two dozen pending free agents, four landed on ESPN's ranking of the Top 50 free agents this offseason. This is significant for a few reasons, one being that the Patriots have finally found players that other teams want.
They're also being recognized for their talent and contributions on the field, which doesn't happen very often in New England.
The Patriots will need to take out their wallet if they want to keep these four players
Topping the Patriots' list is Kyle Dugger, whom ESPN ranked at the halfway point of all pending free agents. Since he was drafted in 2020, his consistency and dedication to improving his craft have made him a solid part of the secondary and a player who would be a massive loss if he signed elsewhere.
He has been the go-to guy covering opponents' tight ends and had back-to-back years of standout production to earn a new contract for the long haul.
#25 - Kyle Dugger
- "Dugger has rare position versatility at 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds, with the impact traits to play from depth or roam underneath as a hybrid defender. That makes him a fit for a multiple defensive system that uses dime personnel. Dugger has 343 tackles, 9 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks in his four pro seasons."
Coming in at number 26 is Mike Onwenu, who feels shockingly low on the list considering he will be a highly sought after offensive tackle this offseason.
Rumors have suggested this offseason that the Patriots were prepared for him not to re-sign with the team in free agency, citing his presumed status as the best available at the position. However, with an entirely new staff in charge, perhaps he will change his mind. Hopefully, he does because the offensive line needs him, badly.
#26 - Mike Onwenu
- "At 6-foot-3 and 350 pounds, Onwenu has the ability to play guard or tackle. But I see him as a better fit inside at guard, where he can use his size and power to move defenders in gap schemes and anchor in pass pro. Onwenu posted an 88.7% pass block win rate at guard this season."
Sticking with the offense, ESPN lists Trent Brown at #41. Given he has consistently been one of the better tackles in the league, his ranking seems a bit low, but it also makes sense based on his up-and-down 2023 season.
Because the Patriots have a high first-round pick, there has been talk of taking the top-ranked left tackle, Joe Alt, third overall. But they also have the 34th overall pick, allowing them to still take a great tackle in the second round, especially since the class is considered deep this year.
Going with a rookie wouldn't be a bad decision, but keeping Brown wouldn't be either. The main issue will be to keep him motivated and happy for an entire season, and although that shouldn't be the case, it appears to be exactly that with Brown.
But when he's on, he's on, and he is one of the best left tackles in the sport so that it could be worth it.
#41 - Trent Brown
- "At 6-foot-8 and 370 pounds, Brown can use his massive frame to absorb power rushers and close the door on the edge despite his limited foot quickness. He has more natural strength than raw power, and he can lean on defenders and move them off the ball. Brown is better in space than you think, too. Still, he is turning 31, and his 2023 pass block win rate of 82.7% ranked 60th of the 69 qualifying offensive tackles."
And last but not least, coming in at #47 is linebacker Josh Uche.
If this were still Bill Belichick's team, it would be fair to say Uche would not be back for the 2024 season. The head coach is said to have had a deal nearly in place with the Lions before the deadline to trade him last season, seemingly confirming early that he wasn't willing to pay Uche at the end of his rookie contract.
However, now that former linebackers coach Mayo is the head coach, he may be more inclined to keep Uche for the future. His performance last season doesn't necessarily warrant that, but he is young and has proven he can be the guy alongside Matthew Judon, so don't be surprised if Mayo brings him back.
#47 - Josh Uche
- "After a breakout 2022 that included 11.5 sacks, Uche had three this season. Watching the tape, however, you can see the sudden burst off the line and the ability to rip and bend against offensive tackles. And with his ability to close on the QB, Uche can be schemed on stunts to loop inside as a sub-rusher."
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