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Mike Onwenu's New Three-Year Deal Cements Excellent 72 Hour Stretch for the New England Patriots

At long last, the NFL's legal tampering period started on Monday, the unofficial kickoff of the new fiscal year for the league. This was Eliot Wolf's first real shot at running his own ship, with nine figures worth of salary cap room to play with. After making some moves leading up to the legal tampering period and through the later afternoon portion of Monday, so far, it is good for the second-generation GM.

Earlybird Housekeeping

Before Monday, the Patriots did come to terms on three deals, one of which was with an already free agent, Chukwuma Okorafor, who, for the moment, feels like the logical sixth offensive lineman candidate and right tackle backup. Alex Van Pelt loved going to the sixth offensive lineman well with the Browns, so from that standpoint, this feels like a solid deal, especially at only four million dollars. If he's anything more than what's been described, I'd be shocked with that said. Okorafor was almost exclusively a right tackle as a member of the Steelers, and making him a bridge option as a blindside blocker would be playing with fire.

Sticking on the offensive side of the ball, Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry also got last-minute deals with the team, three years a pop for less than 10 million in average annual value. Bourne coming back and his deal having a lot of incentive money tied to it doesn't shock me, coming off the ACL tear. He's seemed to love his time here, and Patriots fans have reciprocated that from the jump. With that said, I was under the impression from about midway through the year that Henry would walk, and I'm glad to say I was wrong. Looking at how a guy like David Njoku performed in an AVP offense should have Patriots fans excited about what he may do this upcoming season.

Now we finally get to Michael McCorkle Jones, who, while still technically on the roster, is set to be dealt to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a sixth-rounder (192nd pick). My gut feeling was his trade value was likely between a mid-fourth rounder and a late sixth-rounder, so this feels like a good return, but so much went wrong for this to happen. Not that Jones was blameless, but Bill Belichick should've handled things much better in years two and three as both a coach and a general manager. But what's done is done now, and here's to hoping those in the halls of 1 Patriot Place don't repeat the same mistakes that got them to this point.

Big Mike Staying Put

Sometime after they came to terms with new third-down back Antonio Gibson, the news many Patriots fans had been waiting for dropped: Michael Onwenu signed a monster three-year, 57-million dollar contract extension to stay in New England. Wolf objectively took a colossal risk transition tagging Kyle Dugger and allowing the big man to hit the open market, but it paid off. The Patriots had the luxury to overpay Onwenu if necessary, but looking at some of the other offensive lineman deals in the last few deals, I'd say they got out fairly well.

19 Million per year is roughly in the ballpark of what I expected Onwenu to get, now the fourth highest among right tackles, but seeing a guy like Robert Hunt get 20 million from the Panthers at guard, who I don't think is better than Onwenu, you can live with that number. This was the one guy they couldn't have afforded to lose, and Eliot Wolf made good on his words at the combine when asked about Onwenu. Better yet, I don't think Kyle Dugger will get any outside offers close to the transition tag number based on most of these non-Xavier McKinney safety deals.

Don't Turn Your Back on the Wolfpac

It'll be roughly eight years since the Patriots drafted Jacoby Brissett out of NC State in the third round to essentially be Jimmy Garoppolo insurance as Tom Brady served his sham Deflategate suspension. On Monday, he put pen to paper to return to the team that drafted him to serve as a backup/bridge option for the Patriots as they enter this new era. At long last, the Wolfpac has representation in New England for the first time in five seasons.

Brissett is probably the best option for this exact role, given his familiarity with Alex Van Pelt as an 11-game starter for the Browns in 2022, one of which was against New England in a losing effort. Unless they somehow managed to get Joe Flacco, this was the best option to run AVP's offense effectively and help a younger quarterback along, something he's been on both ends of in his well-traveled career. It might not be the most exciting or even popular route, but I'm not against the idea of Brissett starting the entire season if they want to play things safe with either Maye or Daniels. He went 4-7 as a starter with the Browns in 2022, but he gave them chances to win, and Cleveland's defense that year paled in comparison to their juggernaut 2023 unit.

Abandon Ship in Miami

Looking elsewhere in the AFC East, the Bills are in the middle of a cap crunch, and the Jets haven't done much of note just yet, but the Miami Dolphins are in serious trouble after Monday. Yesterday alone, they lost Christian Wilkins, Andrew Van Ginkel, Robert Hunt, and Brandon Jones. Not only did they lose those four starters, but they also had to part ways with Xavien Howard and Jerome Baker days before free agency, and to top that off, edge rushers Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips are both only a few months off from an ACL and Achilles tear respectively.

Despite making a few moderate moves on Monday, this team feels poised for a massive downswing from where they were a year ago. Wilkins, AVG, Howard, and Baker are as bad a collective loss as any team has suffered on one side of the ball in some time. I have no doubt they'll find a way to plug some holes between now and the regular season, but those were core, homegrown guys you built a program around, not exactly guys you'll instantaneously replace. This is not to say they were going to keep all of them. Guys like Tua and Jaylen Waddle are going to take precedence moving forward, but the Dolphins' defense will almost certainly be the reason this team struggles to replicate the success they had in 2023.

Names to Watch Out For

As of literally minutes into Tuesday, the Patriots still have several notable options to bolster their roster. I'd certainly refer back to guys like Calvin Ridley, Tyron Smith, Noah Brown, and Stephon Gilmore, who I mentioned as targets a few days ago, but here are some other names worth monitoring.

He was another guy I loosely mentioned the other day, but if the Patriots want a low-risk, low-cost option at boundary cornerback, Tre'Davious White is right there. The ACL and Achilles tendon injuries in about two years at his age are certainly concerning, but he wouldn't be coming to New England as a No. 1 option. Give him a chance to work himself back slowly, and if he can get into good health, two chances to get back at the Bills.

Another name I would've mentioned this morning had the Vikings not picked him up was Aaron Jones. I wouldn't have signed him personally, but Eliot Wolf was the Packers' Director of Football ops the year he got drafted, and we've clearly established by now that he'll go back to the well of guys he's brought in. With that in mind, here's a name that I really didn't think would've been realistic, but now that I think about it, he'd make a ton of sense.

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