Coming off a disappointing 2020 campaign, the New England Patriots are headed into a pivotal offseason: they need to rebuild a roster that went just 7-9 last year and is in need of some major upgrades across the board. Part of those could be bringing back the players scheduled to enter free agency — and there are quite a few of them.
All in all, 26 players that were with New England in one way last season are in need of a new contract. Among them is offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 17.
Name: Jermaine Eluemunor
Position: Offensive tackle/Guard
Jersey number: 72
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-4, 335 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? Following a five-year college career that started at Lackawanna College and ended at Texas A&M, Eluemunor was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round of the NFL’s 2017 draft. Despite his status as a Day Three pick, the rookie was able to make the team’s active roster and over the next two seasons went on to appear in 17 regular season games as well as one playoff contest. Along the way, Eluemunor also started three games — two at right guard in 2017, and one at left tackle in 2018.
Eluemunor, who was voted to the Pro Football Writers’ All-Rookie Team, had an encouraging start to his professional career but never quite established himself as a key member of Baltimore’s offensive line: he was released during 2018’s roster cutdowns and later signed to the practice squad before again being promoted to the active roster, and eventually was traded to New England ahead of his third year with the club. In his two years with the Patriots, Eluemunor appeared in 22 games — including eight as a starter.
What did his 2020 season look like? After seeing only minimal action in his first year in New England, Eluemunor was re-signed as a restricted free agent and pushed up the depth chart following Marcus Cannon’s Covid-19 opt-out. With Cannon sitting out the season, the former backup took over as the starting right tackle: Eluemunor filled in over the course of training camp and later also served as the Patriots’ starter early on during the season, albeit in more of a rotational role alongside rookie Michael Onwneu.
After starting four of New England’s first five games of the year at right tackle — he had to sit out the Week 4 contest in Kansas City due to a migraine — Eluemunor’s season took a turn to the worse: just 12 snaps into the Week 6 game versus the Denver Broncos, he hurt his ankle and subsequently had to be sent to injured reserve. During his absence, Onwenu took over the right tackle position and ran with it. When Eluemunor was reactivated, he only had a backup role waiting for him.
Nevertheless, the veteran still started four of the Patriots’ final eight games of the season: he saw action at left tackle after Isaiah Wynn’s season-ending knee injury, and later also received a start on the right side again as other injuries all over the lineup forced New England to reshuffle its line for the season finale against the New York Jets. All in all, Eluemunor therefore finished the 2020 season with a career-high eight starts as well as an offensive playing time share of 41.4 percent (419 of 1,011).
From a performance perspective, Eluemunor’s 2020 season has to be split in two halves: his pre-injury outings were impressive and he played some good football at the right tackle position. After missing time on IR and later being asked to take over Wynn’s role as the Patriots’ left tackle, however, he struggled with consistency and eventually was benched following a bad game against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14. Eluemunor finished the season having given up 18 quarterback pressures, including a team-high five sacks.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Eluemunor signed a standard four-year rookie pact when he joined the Ravens in the fifth-round of the 2017 draft, but was released again the following year. He later rejoined Baltimore on a practice squad deal before being tendered at the exclusive-rights free agent level. After getting traded to New England, Eluemunor signed a one-year, $2.1 million restricted free agent tender. His overall contractual career earnings are estimated at around $4 million by Over the Cap.
Which teams might be in the running? Eluemunor brings starting experience and positional versatility to the table, and as such could be a prominent target in free agency for teams needing to upgrade along their offensive line. The Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans or Washington Football Team could all identify the 26-year-old as a player worth investing in.
Why should he be expected back? Even though the Patriots appear to be well set at the tackle position, re-signing Eluemunor might be a smart move given the two features mentioned above: experience and versatility. With some changes possibly coming on the interior of the line, and with Michael Onwenu a candidate to move to his more natural guard position, New England could identify Eluemunor as a potential long-time replacement at right tackle.
Why should he be expected to leave? Not only will other positions influence how big of a need offensive tackle will be for the Patriots this offseason, the team also might decide that its younger and cheaper options provide more value: Justin Herron had some positive moments when on the field as a rookie in 2020, while former third-round draft pick Yodny Cajuste also still factors into the equation. Accordingly, Eluemunor might prefer to take his talents elsewhere.
What is his projected free agency outcome? Even though keeping the experienced Eluemunor in the fold might be the best decision for a team whose O-line could be in transition this year, him returning to the Patriots is far from a guarantee. He is no lock to earn a starting spot in New England, after all, and could look for more favorable landing spots in that regard. Add the financial aspect, and Eluemunor returning could be a toss-up with him moving on after two seasons certainly a realistic option.