Top Free Agent Fits For Patriots OL Michael Onwenu

If you’re making a list of the Patriots’ best sixth-round picks, obviously everyone knows Tom Brady is No. 1. But OL Michael Onwenu has a great case to be in the top three, and you have to go back over 50 years to find anyone else close. 

Michael Onwenu

Aside from a weird half-season where he came off the bench in his second year, Onwenu has been a mainstay in the Patriots’ lineup despite his humble origins. Pro Football Focus has annually graded him among their top performers and it hasn’t mattered a whole lot where he’s lined up. He split time between left guard, right guard and right tackle as a rookie, shuttled between left guard and right tackle his second season, spent his whole third year at right guard and played primarily right tackle with a dash of right guard in 2023. 

That kind of flexibility is a lifesaver for teams who can get pinched with injuries easily on the offensive line. Onwenu is a wall of a human at 6-3 and 350 pounds, and that size and strength makes him tough to deal with at both guard and tackle. It helps that the Patriots have been one of the few teams over the past few years to run more gap plays than zone. Onwenu’s strengths line up more with gap schemes but he’s more than competent in both. 

Long-term, Onwenu’s best fit is probably at right guard, but there’s more than enough tape of him playing well at right tackle for teams to go off of. From a contractual standpoint, there’s not necessarily a major difference right now between an elite guard or a solid right tackle. Either tack by his agent would get him in the range of $16-$18 million a year, maybe more if a team is really desperate. 

Onwenu is easily the best offensive lineman available in free agency this year, and his market should reflect that. 

Onwenu, 26, was drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round out of Michigan in 2020. He played out the final year of a four-year, $3.497 million deal that included a signing bonus of $202,468. 

He is currently set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2024.

In 2023, Onwenu appeared in 15 games and made 15 starts for the Patriots, four at guard and 11 at right tackle. Pro Football Focus had him rated as the No. 29 tackle out of 81 qualifying players. 

We have him included in our Top 100 – 2024 NFL Free Agents list.


The biggest holdup for the Chargers will be their cap situation. As of right now, Los Angeles still has serious work to do to get under the cap but they have tons of potential salary they can still cut as new HC Jim Harbaugh remakes the team. They could have room to make one big splash in free agency, and if they do I think Onwenu would be one of their biggest priorities. 

Harbaugh and new OC Greg Roman will be running a smashmouth offense built heavily on gap scheme runs. It’s what Harbaugh did in college at Michigan — where Onwenu was in one of his first recruiting classes — and it’s what Roman has done in all of his previous NFL stops including most recently with the Ravens. Improving the offensive line to be able to run that effectively in the NFL will be a huge priority for the Chargers. 

Onwenu could slot in at either right guard or right tackle and give the Chargers a major upgrade over either Jamaree Salyer or Trey Pipkins. If it’s right tackle, that would free the Chargers to go after a receiver or edge rusher with the No. 5 overall pick, either by staying put or by trading down. If it’s right guard, Onwenu could potentially pair with a top pick at right tackle to give the Chargers the type of road-grading engine capable of powering the type of offense Harbaugh wants to run. 


In 2022, Raiders RB Josh Jacobs led the NFL in gap scheme runs by a good clip. Las Vegas still ran more gap plays than zone runs in 2023, but the balance swung much closer and new OC Luke Getsy will probably lean more on zone schemes given his numbers in Chicago and his background with the Packers/Mississippi State. 

Regardless, the Raiders have some cap space to play with this offseason and a major need on the offensive line, particularly on the right side where both starters Greg Van Roten and Jermaine Eluemunor are pending free agents. New Raiders HC Antonio Pierce has said he wants to be a run-first offense to establish the type of physical identity he wants Las Vegas to be known for. Onwenu would be a huge piece of that. 


Despite using the franchise tag on WR Tee Higgins, the Bengals still have more than $40 million in available cap space to use this offseason. They have some room to make some big free agent swings if they want, and in the past few years the Bengals have been one of the more active teams in free agency. That’s especially been true along the offensive line. In recent years, the Bengals have signed LT Orlando Brown Jr., C Ted Karras, RG Alex Cappa and RT La’el Collins to big deals to come in and start. Collins is the only one not still with the team. 

Perhaps the Bengals would prefer to allocate draft capital in a deep class for tackles to try and balance things out more on the offensive line, as well as save cash for extensions down the line. But it’s tough to ignore how great of a fit Onwenu is for Cincinnati. The team will need a new starting right tackle with Jonah Williams set for free agency and the Bengals love their bulky maulers up front.

In pass protection, that size forces edge rushers to take a wider angle to get to the quarterback, helping QB Joe Burrow have more space to operate. In the run game, the Bengals were one of just five teams that ran gap schemes for more than 50 percent of their running plays. Those two factors make Onwenu a much cleaner fit at tackle for the Bengals than he’d be for some other teams. 


One of the coolest things about how Lions OC Ben Johnson runs his offense in Detroit is how diverse schematically the team is in the run game. The Lions can run gap and zone schemes with equal aplomb. In 2022, they were more gap-heavy, while in 2023 the balance shifted to 47 percent zone, 43 percent gap — which was still the ninth-highest percentage of gap runs in the league.

Both years the Lions were top five on offense and the strength of the offensive line has been a key factor in that success. Heading into 2024, however, the Lions are slated to lose their top three guards to free agency between Jonah Jackson, Graham Glasgow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Jackson in particular could get big money with some buzz around him heading into free agency. 

While Onwenu wouldn’t be any cheaper than re-signing Jackson, PFF thinks that would give the Lions a much better player. Onwenu has ranked eighth, third, fourth and 29th at his position in his four years in the league. Jackson has been 55th, 24, 27th and 34th, and while Onwenu has done a lot of that good work at tackle, Jackson is exclusively a guard. 

Detroit has to budget for several extensions for current players like QB Jared Goff and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, but they have more than $40 million in cap space right now and an extension for Goff could actually add to that depending on how it’s structured. Add in the homecoming factor with Onwenu returning to Michigan, and the Lions seem like a sneaky contender to sign Onwenu. 

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