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Patriots Look to Retain Key Free Agents, Play Youngsters



New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger

The new regime for the New England Patriots is emphasizing building sustained success through the draft. They want younger players to see more reps. They also want to retain those players long-term. This is exciting news for the initial draft class of the Wolf-Mayo Era. But does it apply to players drafted by the previous regime as well?

New England has several homegrown players heading to free agency. That list includes key contributors Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, and Myles Bryant, But the two Patriots draft picks at the top of their UFA priority list are Mike Onwenu and Kyle Dugger.

The Big Two

On Tuesday Eliot Wolf made his feelings about the pair clear by stating, “We want to keep Mike (Onwenu) and Kyle (Dugger).”

Jerod Mayo echoed these sentiments when he met with the media yesterday.

“I love those guys. I love Big Mike (Onwenu). He has the versatility to play guard or tackle. One of those guys that when he’s going, he’s dominant,” gushed Mayo.

“With (Kyle) Dugger, last year going into the season, there were some questions, can he communicate, and he squashed all that this year. He did a fantastic job in his new role without Devin (McCourty) there.”

Both players are candidates to be designated with a franchise tag, keeping them in New England for at least one more season. Franchise tags can be costly and only a short-term fix. It is not ideal for several reasons.

“That’s always an option,” Mayo acknowledged of the franchise tag designation. “But, at the same time with guys like that, you want those guys to be happy. You want them to be here for the long term, so that’s the plan.”

Other Patriots Free Agents

Locking up Onwenu and Dugger is a priority for the Patriots, but what about those other free agents drafted by New England? Mayo’s comments seem to bode well for a return.

“You develop through the draft. So, if those guys stay, they’ve been raised here and they can help push the culture forward,” Mayo concluded.

There are a few other free agents who were not drafted by the Patriots but have been on the roster for multiple seasons. Of those, Mayo has specifically mentioned tight end Hunter Henry as one of the team’s leaders on offense. Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne and linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. are other players there seems to be mutual interest in having back on the team. Things are less clear with players such as Ezekiel Elliott, Trent Brown, and Jalen Mills.

Youth Movement

Mayo also said, “You want to play younger players.” This bodes well for last year’s rookies. Keion White, Marte Mapu, DeMario Douglas, and Kayshon Boutte are all 2023 rookies who may be given a larger role in 2024.

The New England Patriots will usher in the new era with their first draft class in April. These players may be asked to play immediately. They will be relied upon for contributions. But while the 2024 NFL Draft class will be the first under the Wolf-Mayo regime, expect to see many familiar faces returning to Foxboro to keep the continuity of the culture that needs to be amplified.

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