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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Apr 16 - 02:00 PM | Thu Apr 18 - 11:55 AM

2024 Free Agent Forecast: Offensive Line

The new NFL league year begins Wednesday, March 13, and with it, the advent of 2024’s free agency marketplace. Leading up to that day, we’ll examine the landscape from a Patriots perspective. Today, we analyze the offensive line. 

Patriots offensive lineman Mike Onwenu (71).
Patriots offensive lineman Mike Onwenu (71).

Patriots Free Agents: Trent Brown (UFA), Mike Onwenu (UFA), James Ferentz (UFA), Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (ERFA)

Notable Exteneral Free Agents: Tyron Smith, Mekhi Becton, Jonah Williams, Jermaine Eluemunor, Josh Jones, Donovan Smith, George Fant, Geron Christian

Positional Analysis: According to several metrics, the Patriots are coming off a season where their offensive line was one of the worst groups in the league as a pass-blocking unit.

New England ranked dead-last in pass-blocking win rate (43%), was 29th in PFF pass-blocking grade, and was 27th in pass-blocking efficiency with the fifth-most sacks allowed in 2023 (35). Those numbers are ugly for an offensive line that was clearly limited by personnel and lost its line coach shortly after the midway point in the season. Now, the Patriots are starting over in the trenches with newly hired line coaches Scott Peters and Robert Kugler hoping to improve the line play.

As for personnel, the first major move for the Patriots is trying to retain stud offensive lineman Michael Onwenu, who has graded out as a solid starter at both right guard and right tackle. Onwenu's long-term position, which he views as a guard but would be open to playing tackle, will factor into his valuation. Currently, Over the Cap estimates that Onwenu will sign a deal worth roughly $14.5 million. New England easily has the cap space to absorb that contract, but it would create a logjam on the interior unless Onwenu agrees to stay at right tackle.

Otherwise, promising second-year guard Sidy Sow or 2022 first-round pick Cole Strange wouldn't have a home in the starting lineup. With the Pats switching to more zone runs, that could benefit Strange, a slender, more athletic player who was an odd fit in a gap scheme. However, those zone runs also ask for range and speed on the outside, which Onwenu doesn't necessarily have. Onwenu's fit in new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt's scheme is a question mark. Yes, you make it work for a great player. Still, the coaching staff will need to weigh in on it as the front office is negotiating Onwenu's future in New England.

From there, the free agency crop at tackle leaves a lot to be desired, which means the draft is the best route for the Patriots to go at left tackle to add depth. Tyron Smith, who is reportedly not returning to Dallas, is a great fit on a short-term deal where the Pats bridge the gap between a younger draft pick and Smith for the 2024 season. Smith has been dinged up at times in recent years, but he played at a high level in 2023. Smith would give the Patriots a short-term fix at left tackle worth exploring.

Patriots tackle Trent Brown (77)
Patriots tackle Trent Brown (77)

After Smith, the Patriots current tackles, Onwenu and Trent Brown, are PFF's second and third-ranked free-agent tackles. Yes, the guys you already had who contributed to the 32nd-ranked pass-blocking offensive line. Then, there are reclamation projections such as Mekhi Becton and Jonah Williams or the serviceable but not needle-moving Jermaine Eluemunor.

At this point, many Patriots fans are done with Trent Brown, whose attitude and effort throughout the second half of last season was noticeably lackluster. From this perspective, the Pats need to move on from relying on poorly motivated players like Brown in favor of guys who represent the right things for a team trying to rebuild their locker room culture.

Former first-rounder Jonah Williams would fit the mold as a high-floor pass protector who has played decently well on both sides in the passing game. Williams is a well-versed technician who can handle different rush moves with good patience and hand fighting. He might never hit his ceiling as the 11th overall pick in the 2019 draft, but Williams would come in and set a floor for either left or right tackle that is higher than the Pats have had in recent years at the position.

Williams would be my pick for New England to sign out of a lackluster free-agent class while retaining Onwenu to set them up for the draft. We should also mention Browns free-agent OT Geron Christian as a potential Pats target. Christian started nine games for Cleveland at left tackle in 2023, so that puts him squarely on New England's radar.

The Patriots could make some value signings in free agency to bolster their offensive line depth, but we'll continue to hammer home that this is a far better tackle draft than free agency class.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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