Sixth-round draft picks are usually not guaranteed a spot on a team’s roster. And even if they make it through final cuts, they are not expected to become anything more than depth players during their rookie season. The 182nd overall selection of last year’s draft, however, took a different path in his first year as a pro.
Michael Onwenu established himself as a likely building block for the New England Patriots’ offensive line for years to come.
Onwenu began his pro career as a rotational backup at right tackle but eventually earned the starting gig at the position despite never having played it in college. The Michigan product ended his first year in the NFL having appeared in all 16 of the Patriots’ games — including three as the starting right guard, one as the starting left guard, and ten as the starting right tackle.
All in all, Onwenu was on the field for 94.9 percent of the Patriots’ combined offensive and special teams snaps.
This playing time share relative to his contract has now helped him get a significant piece out of New England’s performance-based cake for the 2020 season: Onwenu received a team-leading $554,792 through the payout scheme, according to official NFLPA documents. For comparison, he spent last season playing on a base salary of only $610,000.
The NFL first introduced this performance-based pay after the 2002 season. The goal was to award those who had outplayed their contract value during the previous year.
In order to get the payout numbers, the league sums up a player’s snaps on offense, defense and special teams and divides them by regular season compensation to get an index number that then serves as the basis of the payout model. All in all, the NFL awarded $272 million to players this way for their performances during the 2020 regular season. Each team received $8.5 million to be shared among its players.
Onwenu received 6.5 percent of this number, with cornerback J.C. Jackson (5.9%; $501,632) and wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (4.6%; $388,794) next on the list. In total, 70 players were awarded additional compensation.
However, it will take some time before players will actually see this extra money on their bank accounts. According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the NFL has decided to defer performance-based payouts until at least 2024 due to the league’s financial losses over the course of last year.
As for Onwenu, meanwhile, he appears to be in line for similar paydays like this one throughout the duration of his four-year rookie pact. The 23-year-old, after all, is projected as a starter along New England’s offensive line in future years as well: with Joe Thuney having left as an unrestricted free agent last month, Onwenu is the logical heir to the Patriots’ starting left guard position.
The full list of performance-based pay handed out to Patriots players looks as follows: