Eliot Wolf Has Good News on Patriots' Negotiations With Onwenu and Dugger

Jan 1, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23) runs for a
Jan 1, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23) runs for a / Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

With two of their young stars set to hit free agency this offseason, new Patriots head man Eliot Wolf provided updates on the team's effort to keep offensive lineman Mike Onwenu and safety Kyle Dugger in New England for the foreseeable future. Speaking at the NFL Combine on Tuesday, Wolf revealed that the Patriots have held contract negotiations with both of their 2020 draft picks.

Re-signing Dugger would break an alarming pattern as it pertains to developing young talent in New England. The Patriots have not signed a player that they drafted in the first three rounds to a second contract since safety Duron Harmon, who was selected in the third round in 2013. Perhaps by snapping that disquieting drought, it could signal the changing of the guard with the new regime in Foxborough (while fairly acknowledging that Dugger was Belichick's draft pick).

Dugger, a second-round pick in 2020 out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, has excelled in the hybrid safety-linebacker role in New England's defense. The defensive scheme could look different under new defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington, but Dugger's pure athleticism should allow him to easily adapt. The 27-year-old is ranked as Pro Football Focus' 20th-best free agent and the second-best safety available during this cycle. If he does ultimately hit the open market, no shortage of teams will come calling.

Meanwhile, Mike Onwenu turned heads on Sunday when it was reported that the offensive lineman had been informing teams that he had fired his agents. Onwenu was drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 draft out of Michigan. According to Pro Football Focus, the 26-year-old is the 25th-best overall free agent and the third-best tackle. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler had reported earlier this offseason that "The Patriots essentially know Onwenu isn't coming back, and he will have high bidders", but perhaps Onwenu's firing of his agents and today's revelation by Wolf could breathe more life into the possibility of his return.

The Patriots do retain the right to franchise tag both Dugger and Onwenu. With the announcement of the NFL's 2024 salary cap on Friday, New England's front office now knows exactly how much it would cost to franchise each. It would cost the Patriots just a shade over $17 million to tag Dugger and $20.985 million to tag Onwenu. Both tag amounts would be strenuous on the team's payroll, and the franchise tag would only extend their stay in New England by one year. The optimal conclusion for New England, at least from a financial standpoint, would be to extend the pair for a longer contract duration at a lesser average annual value.

The "legal tampering" period, during which teams can contact the representatives of pending free agents, begins on March 11 at noon. The new league year and official free agency period begins on March 13 at 4 P.M. EST.

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