Kyle Dugger

Patriots, S Kyle Dugger Agree To Deal

APRIL 11: Dugger’s new pact is guaranteed in full for its first two years; he will collect $29.75MM over that span, as detailed by the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin (the additional $2.75MM guaranteed, set to paid out in Year 3, is conditional). The contract includes an $18MM signing bonus along with per-game roster bonuses worth up to $5MM. Dugger’s cap hit will sit at $7.5MM in 2024 before rising to $11MM the following season, then $12.5MM and $13.5MM.

APRIL 7: Patriots safety Kyle Dugger is no longer on the transition tag. Per Mike Garafolo and Eric Edholm of NFL Media, player and team are in agreement on a four-year contract, which NFL Media colleague Ian Rapoport says has a base value of $58MM (including $32.5MM in guaranteed money). The maximum value, according to Rapoport, is $66MM.

This offseason, New England made it a point to retain its homegrown talent, re-signing players like Michael Onwenu, Anfernee Jennings, and Josh Uche. At one time, Dugger seemed the likeliest of that group to remain in Foxborough on a long-term basis, with the Patriots submitting a $13MM/year offer to the Lenoir-Rhyne product shortly before the deadline to apply the franchise or transition tag. The two sides were unable to come to terms prior to that deadline, which compelled the Pats to deploy the transition tag, but it ultimately did not take too long for an agreement to be consummated.

Per the rules of the transition tag, if Dugger had signed an offer sheet with another team and New England declined to match the offer sheet, the Patriots would have received no draft pick compensation. Fortunately for them, no outside club extended an offer, as Dan Duggan of The Athletic confirms. As such, all the Pats needed to do was bump the average annual value of Dugger’s new contract ($14.5MM) slightly above the $13.8MM transition tag value to get a deal done.

In terms of both AAV and total guarantees, Dugger now ranks fifth in the league’s safety hierarchy (excluding Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who remains on the franchise tag as of the time of this writing). That underscores his importance to New England’s defense, a unit that finished in the top-10 in total yardage and defensive DVOA in 2023.

Now 28, Dugger has been a full-time starter for most of his four-year career, racking up nine interceptions (including two pick-sixes) and 20 passes defensed along the way. He has not yet earned any Pro Bowl acclaim, and his Pro Football Focus evaluation in 2023 was less than ideal; PFF assigned him an abysmal 50.0 coverage grade and considered him the 68th-best safety out of 95 qualified players.

While it is true that Dugger is more suited to play near the line of scrimmage — he eclipsed 100 tackles for the first time in his career last season — he did yield a fairly modest 82.7 QB rating on passes thrown in his direction in 2023, and his PFF evaluation was much more favorable in 2022, when the advanced metrics placed him as the 11th-best safety among 88 qualifiers.

Regardless of what PFF might say, the Patriots clearly consider Dugger to be a foundational player and value his versatility (in addition to lining up in the box and at free safety, he has also seen action as a slot and boundary corner, on special teams, and even on the D-line). His new contract will keep him under club control into the Pats’ next competitive window.

Patriots To Place Transition Tag On S Kyle Dugger

Amid a flurry of franchise tag decisions, the transition tag will make a rare appearance. The Patriots will take this route to keep Kyle Dugger off the market,’s Jeremy Fowler reports.

A rumored franchise tag candidate, Dugger will become just the fifth player transition-tagged over the past 10 years. It will cost the Patriots $13.8MM to use this tag; a franchise tag would have cost them $17.1MM. Considering New England has extended at least one offer on a multi-year pact so far, the team will no doubt continue negotiating on that front moving forward.

Previous extension talks have not gained much traction, but Dugger would have courted numerous suitors had he reached the open market. The Patriots have prevented that from taking place, although today’s move confirms highly-regarded offensive lineman Michael Onwenu will not receive a tag. That comes as little surprise in the latter’s case, but it still sets him up for free agency.

Onwenu is on New England’s radar for a new contract, but his ability to play both tackle and guard will no doubt help his market. Regardless of if he departs in the near future, however, Dugger is set to remain in place as the Patriots aim to repeat their strong showings in a number of defensive categories from 2023. The 27-year-old has been a full-time starter for most of his four-year career, racking up nine interceptions and 20 pass deflections along the way. Better used near the box than as a traditional safety, Dugger eclipsed 100 tackles for the first time in 2023.

Issues in coverage have hurt the Lenoir-Rhyne alum’s PFF evaluations – particularly last year – but he has cemented his status as a key figure in New England’s secondary. Attention will now turn to the latest round of extension talks. $13MM was the reported AAV of the Patriots’ last offer, a figure which falls short of what Dugger will receive in 2024 if he plays on the tag. It will be interesting to see how far the team is willing to go with respect to length and guarantees on a multi-year pact, and the degree to which outside suitors monitor the situation.

Players hit with the non-exclusive franchise tag are allowed the negotiate and sign offer sheets with outside teams. In that event, parent clubs receive two first-round picks as compensation if it is not matched, something which serves as an effective deterrent. New England would not be compensated if Dugger were to sign an unmatched offer sheet due to the transition tag, though. For the time being, he is in place with the Patriots at a reasonable second contract rate.

Sam Robinson contributed to this post. 

Patriots Make Offer To S Kyle Dugger

MARCH 4: Tony Pauline of Sportskeeda reports the Patriots’ Dugger offer checks in at an annual average value of $13MM. That falls well short of the cost of a franchise tag, but the structure of the pact in terms of guaranteed money and its length will of course be major factors for Dugger’s camp to consider. If no agreement is reached by 3:00pm central on Tuesday, New England will be forced to apply the tag or allow him to test the market.

FEBRUARY 29: Rumored as a franchise tag candidate, Kyle Dugger remains a priority for the Patriots. The young safety would be among the top defenders available if he reaches the open market. The Pats are trying to prevent that.

Less than a week before the deadline to apply franchise tags,’s Karen Guregian and Mark Daniels report the team has submitted an offer to Dugger. Absent a tag, the Pats have until 11am CT to negotiate exclusively with Dugger. At that point, unsigned players are free to speak with other teams in the tampering window.

[RELATED: 2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates]

The cap spiking to $255.4MM has made it more expensive to tag a safety; that number checks in at $17.12MM. This is considerably higher than what it took for the Bengals to keep Jessie Bates off the 2022 market ($12.9MM). That complicates matters for the Pats. The Giants are believed to be considering the lesser-used transition tag for safety Xavier McKinney; that would cost $13.82MM. A transition tag does open the door to offer sheets, as no compensation comes back to teams in the event of an unmatched offer. A franchise tag all but slams the door on a player signing elsewhere.

Already prepared to spend more than they traditionally do in free agency, per Jerod Mayo, the Patriots giving GM power to Eliot Wolf does make that somewhat interesting. The Packers were not known for such activity during Wolf’s time under Ted Thompson. But Green Bay regularly retained its own talent during that long-running regime. In Dugger and Michael Onwenu, the Patriots have two players who are set to be top UFAs soon. The team is also trying to retain Onwenu, but the versatile O-lineman may well reach the open market.

You definitely want those pieces to stay,” Mayo said of Dugger and Onwenu, via MassLive. “You develop through the draft, so if those guys stay, obviously, they’ve been raised here and they can help push the culture forward. With Dugger, I would say last year going into the season, there were some questions about can he communicate and all those things. He squashed all of that last year. He did a fantastic job in his new role without having Devin (McCourty) there.”

Bill Belichick held onto Dugger and Onwenu at the trade deadline; both were rumored candidates to be moved as the team found itself in the rare position as a potential midseason seller. Dugger played 97% of the Pats’ defensive snaps last season, and with Mayo and DeMarcus Covington sticking around, the former second-round pick offers continuity for a team that just released Adrian Phillips.

Dugger, who will turn 27 next month, played ahead of the veteran in 2023. PFF only ranked Dugger 68th among safeties last season but viewed his 2022 more favorably; the Lenoir-Rhyne alum returned two interceptions for touchdowns that year. Although Dugger has fared better closer to the line of scrimmage, he has nine INTs over the past three seasons.

The Patriots are among the league leaders in cap space, holding $78.1MM as of Thursday afternoon. That sits third in the NFL, though teams have a number of days to organize their budgets ahead of the 2024 league year. Keeping Dugger — a 2020 second-round pick — would also be a notable transaction due to the team’s run of not re-signing recent high draft choices. The team has not extended a homegrown first-, second- or third-round pick since re-signing 2013 third-rounder Duron Harmon in 2017.

Patriots Unlikely To Re-Sign OL Michael Onwenu; Kyle Dugger Franchise Tag In Play

Showing an intriguing skillset at both guard and right tackle, Michael Onwenu is expected to generate extensive interest on the open market. The Patriots have the option of franchise-tagging the former sixth-round pick, but that does not seem like the route the organization will take.

The Pats are expecting Onwenu to depart in free agency, according to’s Jeremy Fowler, who indicates teams are monitoring this situation ahead of what is expected to be a strong free agency derby. Several teams slot Onwenu as the top free agent O-lineman this year, per Fowler. Onwenu is among a number of young guard starters close to hitting the market; the former sixth-rounder’s RT past stands to bolster his case to become a well-paid player soon after the legal tampering period launches free agency.

[RELATED: 2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates]

Seeing their Riley Reiff-centered right tackle plan produce only a handful of snaps in 2023, the Patriots moved Onwenu back outside. He had spent time at RT as a rookie, before settling in at guard in 2021 and 2022. In 2022, ESPN’s pass block win rate metric placed Onwenu eighth among guards. Pro Football Focus slotted the Michigan alum 29th among tackles last season.

Onwenu, 26, joins a host of guards who are coming off their rookie deals. Robert Hunt, Jonah Jackson, Damien Lewis, Jon Runyan Jr. and Ezra Cleveland are weeks away from free agency status. Tackle, however, looks much thinner. Among players seeking their first payday, Jonah Williams headlines the tackle crop. Onwenu could give a team a solution at multiple spots. While this resume overlaps with the swingman job description, Onwenu is far above that level. His next team will pay him to start at either guard or right tackle.

The Patriots losing Onwenu would deal a blow to an offense already light on talent. Trent Brown is expected to depart, and Cole Strange has not yet justified his first-round status. Brown’s latest Pats contract voided this week, Fowler adds, creating a $2MM dead-money charge. Onwenu has made 56 career starts and is coming into his prime. The Pats are looking likely to need new solutions at left and right tackle. Onwenu extension talks did not progress too far, though that came when Bill Belichick was still running the show. Eliot Wolf is believed to be in charge now, creating a sense of uncertainty due to Belichick having been at the top of the Pats’ decision-making pyramid for so long.

In an antiquated setup, all O-linemen remain under one umbrella when it comes to the franchise tag. This results in guards and centers rarely being tagged. Though, the Patriots bucked this trend when they last unholstered their tag; New England cuffed Joe Thuney in 2020. The O-lineman tag is projected to check in around $19.9MM. The Pats have another player residing as a more realistic tag candidate. They are more likely to keep Kyle Dugger off the market, Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal writes.

A Dugger tag is probably on the table, per’s Mike Reiss, who reminds of the Pats’ run of failures extending highly drafted players in recent years. The team has not extended a homegrown first-, second- or third-round pick since re-signing 2013 third-rounder Duron Harmon in 2017. Dugger qualifies as a candidate to reverse that trend.

Although the safety market basically turned into Jessie Bates and the field last year, teams have been looking into a potential Dugger pursuit for a bit now. It would cost the Pats roughly $16.2MM to tag Dugger. Doing so would buy them time on an extension, as teams have until July 15 to extended tagged players. Jerod Mayo also pointed to the team being more aggressive in free agency recently, Reiss adds. Holding the NFL’s second-most projected cap space (at $69.5MM), the Pats can afford a Dugger tag and have money to spend to address other areas.

Belichick held onto Dugger and Onwenu at the trade deadline, though both were rumored candidates to be moved as the team found itself in the rare position as a potential midseason seller. Dugger played 97% of the Pats’ defensive snaps last season, and with Mayo and DeMarcus Covington sticking around, the former second-round pick offers continuity for a team that just released Adrian Phillips. Dugger played ahead of the veteran in 2023. PFF only ranked Dugger 68th among safeties last season but viewed his 2022 more favorably; the Lenoir-Rhyne alum returned two interceptions for touchdowns that year. Although Dugger has fared better closer to the line of scrimmage, he has nine INTs over the past three seasons.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

A valuable tool for teams to keep top free agents off the market, the franchise tag has been in existence since 1993. This week brought the opening of the 2024 tag window. Clubs have until 3pm CT on March 5 to apply tags. As the Giants’ situation showed last year, most of the tag-related business comes near the close of this window. Teams will continue to work toward re-signing their respective tag candidates, thus preventing a lofty franchise tender from hitting their cap sheet.

The legal tampering period opens March 11, with the new league year (and official free agency) starting March 13. Once a player is tagged, he has until July 15 to sign an extension with his respective team. Absent an extension agreement by that date, the player must play the 2023 season on the tag (or go the Le’Veon Bell/Dan Williams/Sean Gilbert route, passing on guaranteed money and skipping the season).

High-profile free agents remain weeks away from hitting the market. As PFR’s tag recipients list shows, a handful of players are prevented from taking their services to free agency each year. This year looks to present a few more tag candidates compared to 2023. With a handful of teams determining if they will need to use the tag to prevent a free agency path, here are the players who figure to be tagged or at least generate conversations about being franchised ahead of the March 5 deadline:


Josh Allen, OLB (Jaguars)
Tag cost: $24MM

GM Trent Baalke did not leave much suspense when he addressed Allen’s future last month. The veteran exec said the 2019 first-round pick will be a Jaguar in 2024, indicating the team would use its franchise tag if necessary. The Jaguars do have Calvin Ridley as a free agent, but the team would owe the Falcons a 2024 second-round pick if it extended the wide receiver’s contract before the start of the league year. The second pick sent to Atlanta will only be a third-rounder if Jacksonville lets Ridley hit free agency. It makes more sense for Jacksonville to circle back to Ridley after allowing him to test the market. An Allen tag effectively ensures that will happen.

Timing his sack breakthrough well, Allen registered a Jags-record 17.5 during his contract year. The five-year Jaguar has combined for 55 QB hits over the past two seasons and ranks top 10 in pressures over the past three. The tag regularly keeps top edge rushers from hitting free agency, and the 26-year-old pass rusher — while obviously wanting to be paid what he’s worth — expressed a desire to stay in Jacksonville long term.

The Jags have regularly unholstered their tag during the 2020s, cuffing Yannick Ngakoue in 2020 and then keeping Cam Robinson off the 2021 and ’22 markets. The team kept Evan Engram out of free agency last year. Robinson signed an extension in 2022, and the Jags re-upped Engram last July. The Ngakoue situation could be notable, as the edge rusher became disgruntled with the Jags and was eventually traded to the Vikings that summer. No signs of that level of trouble are brewing with Allen yet.

Jaylon Johnson, CB (Bears)
Tag cost: $19.8MM

Johnson is likely to become the first franchise-tagged cornerback since the Rams kept Trumaine Johnson off the 2017 market. The Bears are the most recent team to tag a corner, using the transition tag to cuff Kyle Fuller in 2018. They will almost definitely follow suit with Johnson, who has been rumored to be tagged for several weeks. A Ryan Pace-era draftee, Johnson expressed his desire to stay with the Bears ahead of his contract year. With that platform campaign producing some twists and turns, that price has gone up significantly.

After unsuccessful in-season extension talks, the Bears gave Johnson an 11th-hour opportunity to gauge his trade value. The Bears did not alert teams Johnson, 24, was available until the night before the Oct. 31 deadline. Although the Bills and 49ers engaged in talks about a trade, the Bears held out for a first- or second-round pick. Nothing materialized, which will likely come up during the team’s talks with Johnson. The Bears then extended trade pickup Montez Sweat, leaving Johnson in limbo. But the former second-round pick stuck the landing on an impact season. He is firmly in the Bears’ plans, and the team holds more than $66MM in cap space — plenty to squeeze in a tag onto the payroll.

Pro Football Focus’ top-graded corner in 2023, Johnson displayed a new gear that has made him worthy of a tag. Finishing with four interceptions and allowing just a 50.9 passer rating as the closest defender, the Utah alum soared to second-team All-Pro status. The Bears, who last used the tag on Allen Robinson in 2021, made no secret of their interest in retaining Johnson and will have a few more months to negotiate with him as a result of the tag.

Likely tag recipients

Brian Burns, OLB (Panthers)
Projected tag cost: $24MM

The Panthers hiring a new GM and head coach classifies this as just short of a lock, but familiar faces remain. Carolina promoted assistant general manager Dan Morgan to GM and blocked DC Ejiro Evero from departing. Burns has been viewed as a likely tag recipient since last season, after negotiations broke down. The Panthers have not offered a negotiating masterclass here, as Burns has been extension-eligible since the 2022 offseason. Since-fired GM Scott Fitterer had viewed Burns as a re-up candidate for two offseasons, but multiple rounds of trade talks boosted the 2019 first-rounder’s leverage.

In what looks like a mistake, the Panthers passed on a Rams offer that included two first-rounders and a third for Burns at the 2022 trade deadline. Carolina then kept Burns out of 2023 trade talks with Chicago about the No. 1 pick, ultimately sending D.J. Moore to the Windy City for the Bryce Young draft slot. Carolina also kept Burns at the 2023 deadline, as teams looked into the top pass rusher on the NFL’s worst team. Burns also saw his position’s market change via Nick Bosa‘s record-setting extension ($34MM per year). The 49ers’ landmark accord came to pass after Burns had set a $30MM-AAV price point, complicating Morgan’s upcoming assignment.

Burns, 25, has registered at least 7.5 sacks in each of his five seasons. While he has only topped nine in a season once (2022), the two-time Pro Bowler is one of the league’s better edge rushers. Given the Panthers’ history with Burns, it would be borderline shocking to see the team allow the Florida State alum to leave in exchange for merely a third-round compensatory pick.

Burns has said he wants to stay with the Panthers; he is unlikely to have a choice this year. The Panthers last used the tag to keep right tackle Taylor Moton off the market in 2021; the sides agreed to an extension that offseason.

Tee Higgins, WR (Bengals)
Tag cost: $21.82MM

Seeing their hopes of capitalizing on the final year of Higgins’ rookie contract dashed due to Joe Burrow‘s season-ending injury, the Bengals look to be giving strong consideration to keeping the Burrow-Higgins-Ja’Marr Chase trio together for one last ride of sorts. The Bengals hold $59.4MM in cap space — fifth-most currently — and structured Burrow’s extension in a way that makes a Higgins tag palatable. Burrow’s deal does not spike into historic cap territory until 2025.

While a future in which Chase and Higgins are signed long term is more difficult to foresee, the Bengals still carry one of the AFC’s best rosters. It is likely Burrow’s top two weapons remain in the fold for at least one more year. Higgins, 25, did not come close to posting a third straight 1,000-yard season. Burrow’s injury had plenty to do with that, though the former second-round pick started slowly. A Bengals 2023 extension offer underwhelmed Higgins, but the Bengals kept him out of trades. A tag will give Cincinnati the option to rent him for 2024. A tag-and-trade transaction is viewed as unlikely, as the Bengals load up again.

How the organization proceeds beyond 2024 will be a key storyline, but the Bengals — who kept Jessie Bates in similar fashion in 2022 — are positioned well to run back perhaps the NFL’s best receiving tandem. While director of player personnel Duke Tobin stopped short of guaranteeing Higgins will be a Bengal in 2024, signs point to it.

Justin Madubuike, DL (Ravens)
Tag cost: $22.1MM

Seeing their defensive coordinator depart and once again facing questions at outside linebacker, the Ravens have the option of keeping their top 2023 pass rusher off the market. They are probably going to take that route. Madubuike raised his price considerably during an impact contract year, leading the Ravens with 13 sacks. While Mike Macdonald was able to coax surprising seasons from late additions Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, Madubuike drove Baltimore’s defensive engine and will likely be guaranteed a high salary by signing his franchise tender.

Perennially interested in hoarding compensatory picks, the Ravens have regularly let breakthrough pass rushers walk in free agency. This dates back to the likes of Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee and subsequently included Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon. The Ravens have only been able to replace Judon with stopgap options — from Clowney to Van Noy to Justin Houston — and again must figure out a solution alongside Odafe Oweh on the edge. Madubuike, 26, proved too good to let walk; the former third-round pick will once again be expected to anchor Baltimore’s pass rush in 2024.

Antoine Winfield Jr., S (Buccaneers)
Tag cost: $17.12MM

We mentioned Winfield as the Bucs’ most likely tag recipient around the midseason point, and signs now point to that reality coming to pass. The Bucs want to re-sign Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans. The bounce-back quarterback’s tender price would check in at nearly $36MM, and because Evans was attached to a veteran contract, his tag number would come in well north of Higgins’ — at beyond $28MM. As such, the Bucs cuffing Winfield has always made the most sense, and after the second-generation NFL DB’s dominant contract year, it would be stunning to see the team let him walk.

The Bucs have let their recent top free agents test free agency, only to re-sign Shaquil Barrett (2021), Carlton Davis (2022) and Jamel Dean (2023). Winfield may be on a higher plane, having secured first-team All-Pro acclaim last season. Davis and Dean have never made a Pro Bowl; Winfield’s productive and well-regarded 2023 stands to separate him. Winfield, 25, tallied six sacks and three interceptions while forcing an NFL-leading six fumbles. This included a pivotal strip of DJ Chark in the Bucs’ Week 18 win over the Panthers, which clinched them the NFC South title.

Winfield will undoubtedly be eyeing a top-market safety extension. Derwin James established the current standard, $19MM per year, just before the 2022 season. Last year’s safety market did not feature big-ticket prices, for the most part, but the Falcons made Jessie Bates (four years, $64MM) an exception. If Winfield were to reach free agency, he would be expected to eclipse that.

The Bucs, who have used the tag three times in the 2020s, should not be considered likely to let Winfield follow Davis and Dean’s path by speaking with other teams. Tampa Bay has used the tag three times in the 2020s, cuffing Barrett in 2020 and tagging Chris Godwin twice. The team eventually re-signed both, and while the statuses of Mayfield and Evans (and All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs) create a crowded contract queue, the Bucs will certainly be interested in re-upping Winfield.

On tag radar

Saquon Barkley, RB (Giants)
Tag cost: $12MM

Barkley has said he wants to finish his career with the Giants, and the team will meet with the Pro Bowl running back’s camp at the Combine. But a recent report indicated the team is highly unlikely to tag the six-year veteran a second time. The Giants should not be ruled out from reversing course and keeping Barkley, given his importance to an otherwise low-octane offense, but it appears they are prepared to move on if the talented RB does not accept their extension offer this time around. A host of talented backs await in free agency, though Barkley would likely be the top prize were he to reach the market.

Read more

Patriots Notes: Dugger, Cunningham, Offseason

The Patriots have 15 impending unrestricted free agents, a group that’s headlined by safety Kyle Dugger. The former second-round pick has turned into one of New England’s most dependable defenders, but there’s a good chance he hits free agency after the season.

According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, “prior extension talks didn’t generate much momentum” towards a long-term deal, leading to the belief that Dugger wants to test the market. The Patriots are armed with a bit of leverage, as the team could choose to slap Dugger with the franchise tag. Doug Kyed previously noted that the franchise tag could be in play if the two sides don’t agree to a long-term deal. The 2023 franchise tag value for safeties was at $14.46MM.

Dugger previously expressed an interest in sticking around New England, but there haven’t been many updates this season regarding an extension. The fourth-year player has started all 14 games for the Patriots in 2023, collecting 88 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two interceptions.

More notes out of New England…

  • There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding Bill Belichick‘s future in New England. Regardless of who’s running the Patriots front office this offseason, Doug Kyed of the Boston Globe expects the organization to spend big. Thanks to the league’s cash-spending floor, the Patriots will need to spend at least $98MM to hit the $216MM requirement. The front office should have far more money to play with; if the Patriots take a similar approach to their pricey 2021 offseason, Kyed projects that they could commit upwards of $194MM to free agency (especially via signing bonuses).
  • Belichick told reporters that the Patriots attempted to keep quarterback Malik Cunningham before he landed on the Ravens’ active roster. The undrafted rookie spent the entire season shuffling between New England’s active roster and practice squad, with the organization experimenting with the player at both quarterback and wide receiver. As Reiss notes, the Ravens ultimately sold Cunningham on their system and the presence of Lamar Jackson.
  • Considering the Patriots’ struggles at the quarterback position this season, it was a surprise that Cunningham never got a shot to run the offense. Offensive tackle Trent Brown told Sophie Weller of that “everybody on the team” thought the rookie should get a look under center. Brown also admitted that Baltimore was an ideal spot for his former teammate. “It’s funny because I told him months ago if they ever called, if anybody, that’s the team where he should go,” Brown said of the Ravens. “It was almost like I saw it coming…And that’s really good for him to actually get a real chance to play his real position.”
  • Tight end Mike Gesicki inked a one-year deal with the Patriots this offseason, but things haven’t gone as planned during his first season with the team. Through 14 games, the veteran has hauled in 22 catches for 189 yards and one touchdown, and he’s on pace for his lowest offensive output since his rookie campaign. Despite the struggles, Gesicki is remaining positive about his experience in New England. “Control what you can control, coming in here every day and having a good attitude and being positive and enjoying it,” the tight end told Reiss. “Because at the end of the day, you’re playing in the NFL, meeting new guys, and playing for the greatest coach to ever do it. So there’s a lot of things you can take away from it. And we still have another four games. You never know how we can finish this thing and have some bright spots.”

AFC East Notes: Bills, Patriots, Eichenberg

Buffalo-Kansas City has been one of the 2020s’ defining NFL rivalries. The AFC squads have played five times this decade, twice in the playoffs, with the Chiefs’ two postseason wins playing a role in the Bills‘ roster construction. The AFC powers’ plans intersected during the 2022 first round as well. When the Chiefs moved up from No. 29 to No. 21 in the ’22 first round, they took the player the Bills eyed. The Bills sought Trent McDuffie with their top pick last year, per’s Albert Breer, but the Chiefs were able to make a deal with the Patriots to move in front of Buffalo.

The fallout from this miss became costly for the Bills, whose subsequent trade-up — from No. 25 to No. 23 — produced Kaiir Elam, who has been unable to earn steady playing time. As Elam has vacillated between backup or emergency starter and healthy scratch, McDuffie has progressed in Kansas City. Pro Football Focus rates McDuffie eighth overall among corners; the Washington product has been a central part of the Chiefs’ defensive improvement this season.

Here is the latest from the AFC East:

  • The Patriots opted not to sell at the trade deadline, keeping the door open for longer-term futures with some of their contract-year players. New England held onto Josh Uche, Michael Onwenu and Kyle Dugger despite interest coming in before the deadline. Dugger has become a player teams are monitoring ahead of free agency, with’s Jeremy Fowler noting some teams view the Division II alum as the 2024 UFA class’ second-best safety — behind the Buccaneers’ Antoine Winfield Jr. This year’s safety market producing only one contract north of $8MM per year (Jessie Bates‘ outlier $16MM-AAV accord) could impact Dugger, but it is clear the former second-round pick will be costly for the Pats to retain.
  • Benched in Week 9 and left in the States ahead of the Patriots’ Week 10 Germany trip, J.C. Jackson was initially believed to have arrived late at the team hotel the night before the Pats-Commanders game. But the recently reacquired corner did not show up at all that night,’s Mike Reiss notes. Jack Jones missed curfew as well, but Reiss adds the since-waived corner did surface later. Both players were benched for Week 9, and despite Jackson’s unavailability, the Patriots further limited Jones against the Colts. Jackson is expected to remain with the Pats, but the ballhawk has not escaped the rough patch that began last year in Los Angeles.
  • Trent Brown did not make the trip to Frankfurt for personal reasons, and Reiss adds the veteran tackle’s missed game will affect his recently reworked contract. Including $88K per game in roster bonuses, the Patriots set playing-time thresholds for additional Brown escalators as well. The starting LT would collect $1MM for playing 75% of the team’s offensive snaps this season. Hovering at 75% after Week 9, Brown has now missed two games. The low end of this incentive structure is 65%, which Reiss notes will pay out $750K. He would receive another $750K by hitting the 70% snap barrier.
  • Dolphins contract-year guard Robert Hunt will miss a second straight game due to a hamstring injury. As a result, Liam Eichenberg will complete a rare NFL feat. The 2021 second-round pick began the week practicing at left guard, his primary 2022 position, but the swingman moved to right guard midway through practice this week, the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson notes. The Dolphins view Eichenberg as more comfortable there. Once Eichenberg replaces Hunt on Sunday, he will have started at all five O-line positions as a pro. While the converted tackle could not retain his LG job to start this season, having accomplished this O-line tour of sorts in his third season is certainly noteworthy. Lester Cotton will start at left guard for the Dolphins, who are uncertain to have LG first-stringer Isaiah Wynn back this season.

AFC Trade Rumors: Patriots, Broncos, Renfrow

The Patriots fielded lots of calls for trade offers during today’s trade deadline, but two of the bigger names on their roster reportedly received no interest. According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, teams called New England to take the temperature on pass rusher Josh Uche, safety Kyle Dugger, and tackle Michael Onwenu, while quarterback Mac Jones and veteran running back Ezekiel Elliott didn’t receive any nibbles.

Uche, Dugger, and Onwenu are all facing contract-years, so they all held a decent chance of being dealt. Uche was reportedly the most likely, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. After a couple quiet years to start his career, Uche burst onto the scene in 2022, combining with Matt Judon for half of the team’s 54 sacks last year. Mike Dugar of The Athletic reports that the Seahawks held serious interest in Uche “with talks going pretty deep,” but ultimately, landed Leonard Williams from New York instead. With Seattle filling their defensive line need with Williams, Uche will remain in New England.

As will, Jones and Elliott. It’s unclear how serious the Patriots were, if at all, about seeking trade partners for the two offensive contributors. The team will face a fifth-round option decision for Jones before next year, while Elliott will become a free agent at the end of the season.

Here are a few other rumors from around the AFC, starting out West:

  • It was a similar scene up in Mile High, where the Broncos decided not to move any of their potential trade assets due to a lack of serious interest. While the team reportedly did receive offers on players like receivers Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, they didn’t gauge the offers as good enough to move on, per Jordan Schultz of Bleacher Report. Mike Klis of 9NEWS relayed that the team is “confident in its group of players.” While it seemed the team may be willing to dive into a rebuild, beating a sick Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs may have convinced them otherwise.
  • Remaining in the West, the Raiders were unable to find a buyer for wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, to little surprise. Las Vegas gave Renfrow a big-money extension after his Pro Bowl season and has diminished his role severely ever since. So far this year, Renfrow has been on the field for over half of the Raiders’ offensive snaps in only three games. According to Vic Tafur of The Athletic, the remaining guaranteed money in Renfrow’s contract prevented any teams from fully following through on their interest in the veteran receiver. With Renfrow staying put and the many sources shooting down reports of wide receiver Davante Adams wanting out of Vegas, according to Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Raiders stood pat at the trade deadline.

Patriots “Sniffing Around” At Potential Trades

We heard earlier this week that the Patriots were “willing to listen to offers” leading up to the trade deadline. According to Albert Breer of, New England’s front office may be the side that is initiating trade talks.

[RELATED: Latest On Patriots’ Deadline Plans]

The Patriots are “sniffing around” to see what draft compensation they could get for some of their logical trade candidates. Breer points to offensive lineman Michael Onwenu, safety Kyle Dugger, and defensive end Josh Uche as players who could be on the trade block. All three players are impending free agents, and despite possessing a chunk of 2024 cap space, the organization may want to move on from players they may not re-sign.

Breer opines that Uche is the player who’s most likely to be traded since he’d “probably be the most difficult of the group to re-sign.” The former second-round pick has followed up his 11.5-sack 2022 campaign by collecting six tackles and two sacks in six games this year. While his numbers this season are underwhelming, his pass-rushing ability means the Patriots would still be able to bring back a worthwhile return in a trade. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler agrees that Uche is a name “worth watching,” noting that the pass-rusher has garnered trade interest around the NFL. Likewise, based on his conversations with multiple teams, Mike Giardi of the Boston Sports Journal believes Uche has the best chance of any current Patriot to be dealt.

On the flip side, Breer thinks Onwenu is the least likely of the group to be traded. The Patriots will use the rest of the 2023 campaign to evaluate Mac Jones, and Breer can’t envision the organization hurting the QB’s chances by subtracting from the offense. Following that same logic, Breer also doesn’t see wide receiver Kendrick Bourne getting traded, and Mike Reiss of does not think New England will part with any top talent unless it receives at least a third-round pick in return. Of course, if another club were willing to take on an onerous contract (JuJu Smith-SchusterDeVante Parker) as part of a deal for a player like Uche, the Pats would certainly listen.

Breer adds one more name to the list of potential trade candidates: Jalen Mills. The defensive back has served in a variety of roles with the Patriots since joining the organization in 2021. Mills got through two years of his four-year, $24MM deal before getting cut back in March, but he quickly rejoined the Patriots on a new pact. While the Patriots have dealt with a number of injuries in their secondary, Mills has only seen time in 26 percent of New England’s defensive snaps this season.

Latest On Patriots’ Deadline Plans

Despite their upset win over the Bills in Week 7, the 2-5 Patriots are likely to find themselves in the sellers category ahead of the upcoming trade deadline. To no surprise, the team is open to at least considering offers on a number of players.

[RELATED: Patriots, Bill Belichick Agreed To Offseason Extension]

Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald reports that the Patriots are “willing to listen to offers” which could see them deal away members of their core, specifically those on expiring contracts. That means the likes of edge rusher Josh Uche, safety Kyle Dugger and offensive lineman Michael Onwenu in particular could be the subject of trade negotiations in the coming days.

A recent report indicated Uche and the Patriots have not held extension talks, leaving him on a path toward departing in free agency in March. New England does not have a history of valuing situational edge rushers such as the Michigan alum as highly as other teams. As such, it would not come as a surprise if a market developed for his services to close out the 2023 season, but also for years to come on a long-term deal given out by an acquiring team. Uche had a breakout season last year with 11.5 sacks, but he has managed just a pair so far this season.

As fellow 2020 draftees, Dugger and Onwenu are playing out the final year of their rookie contracts. The franchise tag could be in play for the former in particular, Kyed notes, and it may become necessary if an extension cannot be worked out. Dugger expressed an affinity for the Patriots in the summer when asked about his contract status, but no updates have emerged regarding an extension being on the horizon. The same is true for Onwenu, who has proven to be a versatile and consistent blocker over the course of his career (although his performance has taken a step back in 2023).

Kyed adds that the trio of Uche, Dugger and Onwenu would each likely garner draft compensation ranging from second- to fourth-round picks if they were to be included in deadline deals. Veteran wideout Kendrick Bourne – previously named as a low-cost trade target at his position – could also draw attention and yield a Day 3 pick in return. As Jeff Howe of The Athletic notes (subscription required), New England is seen around the league as a team with desirable trade chips, so they will be a team to watch in the coming days.

The Patriots are currently slated to have the third-most 2024 cap space in the league at nearly $93MM. That flexibility could go a long way in informing their moves (or lack thereof) ahead of the October 31 deadline as they weigh the value of future assets against that of retaining key players in what appears to be another season destined to land outside the postseason.