Michael Onwenu is making Bill Belichick look good for trading Shaq Mason


You know how people talk about a receiver making a quarterback look good on an off-target throw that probably shouldn't be completed -- a la Nelson Agholor stealing a potential interception from Ahkello Witherspoon on Sunday and turning it into a 44-yard touchdown for Mac Jones?

That's what Michael Onwenu might be doing for Bill Belichick the general manager.

Well, Onwenu's not the one catching the deep balls down the sideline, of course. But he's doing a hell of a job making sure those throws leave Jones' hand.

So far in 2022, Onwenu has picked up right where he left off last season: playing like one of the Patriots’ offensive linemen whenever they put him on the field.

Last year, New England shuffled him out of his starting spot as a left guard for the veteran Ted Karras -- at first when injuries and COVID absences forced him to play right tackle and then more permanently later, though he still played heavily as an extra blocker in run-heavy formations.

Through two games this year, Onwenu is not only the highest-graded offensive lineman on the team thus far (as he was last year) but also the seventh-best guard in all of football in overall grade, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s allowed just two pressures and no sacks through two games.

With every strong performance, he's making the puzzling Shaq Mason trade from this past off-season sting much less.

Belichick caught a lot of heat for trading Mason, a mainstay at right guard for his entire tenure with New England, away and letting Ted Karras walk in free agency, appearing to compromise an offensive line that figured to be one of the team’s strengths in 2022.

On top of that, New England proceeded to draft Cole Strange in the first round of this year’s draft, confusing and angering fans who felt guard was far from a glaring need compared to other positions.

Fast forward to Tuesday, September 20, and the conversation around those off-season losses (and acquisitions) feels significantly different.

The Patriots clearly banked on Onwenu, a former sixth-round pick, playing at a similar level to Mason at a fraction of the price, and the third-year pro is proving them right. Take it for what it's worth: Onwenu is heavily outplaying Mason (62.6 PFF grade) to start this season, especially outperforming his predecessor both as a run-blocker and pass-protector so far.

In fact, PFF has Strange (61.0) graded out almost exactly the same as Mason so far (62.6), for those of you bent on comparing the rookie to the former Patriot guard.

But the man you should really be comparing Mason to -- Onwenu -- is owning the stage and serving as a new bedrock for an offensive line that's rediscovering its downhill-running identity right before our eyes.

To be clear, a couple of PFF grades to start the season don’t mean the Patriots couldn’t/shouldn’t have kept Mason around and had a better offensive line, in theory, than what they have now. It also doesn’t necessarily drafting guards in the first round is a good idea, especially when a highly ranked guard prospect isn’t the missing piece you need to win a Super Bowl.

But the early returns on the field suggest Belichick’s latest “only the Patriots would do this” move is on its way to working out. And if last year was any indication, Onwenu outplaying Mason might not be a sample-size fluke; it might just be the truth.

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