Are contract extensions in store for Patriots prior to regular season?


For most teams across the NFL, the 2023 offseason was a critical one for opting in or out of the fifth-year option attached to their 2020 first-round picks. The Patriots didn’t have that luxury.

While New England did hold the 23rd overall pick in 2020's draft, they traded it (as they’re known to do) to the Los Angeles Chargers for picks 27 and 71 - resulting in no team options for New England to work with this offseason.

6 Rings: The Patriots have started the 2023 season on the right foot

What the Patriots did during that draft, however, was select three high-quality, impact players on days two and three that are all well deserving of a contract extension prior to hitting free agency next March. Here’s a look at each of them:

S Kyle Dugger

When New England drafted Kyle Dugger out of Lenoir-Rhyne University with the 37th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, many rolled their eyes:

“Division II?! What is Bill Belichick doing?!”

“Another safety?! We have Devin McCourty!”

“What’s a Lenoir-Rhyne?”

As it turns out, it was an A+ pick as Dugger has become arguably the best safety in his class. The 6-foot-2 playmaker has notched 234 tackles and seven interceptions throughout his three years in New England, and also led the NFL with three defensive touchdowns in 2023 - becoming the first Patriot to accomplish this feat since 1970.

In a safety room with a bunch of ‘what if’s’ and ‘maybe’s’, Dugger is a guarantee. He’s the Patriots’ second best defender to only Matthew Judon, and given McCourty’s retirement prior to this season, it would be beneficial for them to lock him up sooner rather than later. This one feels like a no-brainer.

LB Josh Uche

A third-round pick in 2020, LB Josh Uche had a slow start to his tenure in New England before making his presence known opposite Matthew Judon on the defensive line last season.

The Michigan product churned out a career year in 2022 - tallying 11.5 sacks, 27 tackles, and two forced fumbles. He’ll look to improve on that heading into an all-important contract year.

The writing may already be on the wall for Uche as the Patriots selected LB Keion White at pick 46 in 2023's draft. Should they not extend him, White may be the reason why. If Uche can replicate his 2022 success he’ll likely price himself out of New England, especially with the Georgia Tech product waiting in the wings.

OL Mike Onwenu

Speaking of Michigan draft picks, offensive lineman Mike Onwenu was selected by the Patriots in the sixth round in 2020 and immediately started 16 games. The 6-foot-3, 350-pounder showed some positional versatility as a rookie playing both tackle and guard, but has primarily played on the interior over the last two seasons.

Given the way the Patriots drafted in 2023, an Onwenu extension is the one that seems the least likely for New England this offseason. They drafted guards Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi with back-to-back picks in rounds four and five in April - and although Sow repped at tackle during last Wednesday’s OTA, he’s an added depth piece that can help them justify squeezing Onwenu out.

While the former sixth-rounder has been outstanding for this team, this newfound depth will likely be what makes him expendable at season’s end.

Make sure to follow Mike on Twitter @mikekadlick, and follow @WEEI for the latest up-to-date Patriots and Boston sports news!

Featured Image Photo Credit: Brian Fluharty USA TODAY SPORTS