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Strange Synergy: Is Rookie Contract Good Value For Patriots?

The rookie deal for offensive lineman Cole Strange is already providing a return on investment for the New England Patriots.

FOXBORO — Billionaire business magnate Warren Buffett was once quoted as saying: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”

In spite of the melodramaticism in applying Buffett’s words of wisdom to the realm of professional football, the New England Patriots may find that it applies to their investment in first-round draft pick Cole Strange.

For some, the 29th overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft was a steep price to be paid for Strange’s services. After all, most draft analysts and mock-draft enthusiasts had saddled him with a late third-round grade, at best. However, New England clearly had high hopes for the Chattanooga product. As a result, he will be calling Foxboro his home for the foreseeable, after signing his rookie deal with the team last Wednesday.

Less than one week since the start of his Patriots career became official, the details of Strange’s contract are now known. Per Tuesday’s report from The Boston Globe, the CBA-slotted contract is a typical four-year rookie contract, with a team option for the fifth year. However, in keeping with a common thread throughout the league, Strange’s deal is fully guaranteed.

The deal breaks down as follows:

Total: Four Years*, $12,255,972

Guarantee: $12,255,972

Signing bonus: $6,093,432

Cap numbers:

$2,228,358 - 2022

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$2,785,448 - 2023

$3,342,538 - 2024

$3,899,628 - 2025

While the deal makes sense for both sides when it comes to salary, it also provides an added fiscal benefit for the Patriots. At the outset of the offseason, New England was set to commit approximately $9 million to guard Shaq Mason. However, the Pats decided to part ways with the two-time Super Bowl Champion in March by trading him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fifth-round selection.

For the Pats the move was a financial one, intended to create room under the salary cap. Patriots’ salary-cap expert Miguel Benzan reported that the trade created a cap clearance of approximately $6.3 million, when accounting for the $825,000 salary of the player who would replace Mason on the Top 51 list. The Patriots agreed to take on $3.15 million in dead money. Conversely, Tampa Bay inherited $6.5 million in Mason’s base salary and $1 million in roster bonuses in 2022. They also agreed to pay up to $8.875 million for the Georgia Tech product in 2023.

Here is where Strange’s rookie deal adds a bit of additional value.

With the league’s top offensive guards averaging an annual salary of approximately $16 million annually, New England’s commitment to Strange is a true bargain. Also, Strange’s $3.06 million salary annual average, added to the dead money remaining on Mason’s deal, still earns the Patriots an estimated $3 million in savings for the upcoming season.

Clearly, New England stands to inherit great value from Strange’s rookie deal, both on the field and on their bottom line. However, his performance will ultimately determine his success. Strange is a tenacious run-blocker with the quickness to generate sudden impact on power runs. He has also displayed an ability to seal defenders on zone runs. He has outstanding upper-body strength, as well as the large hands necessary to grasp defenders in pass protection. In addition to his size, he has fluid movement to mirror his opponent, as well as to recover when he struggles with a defender. During the team’s offseason workouts, Strange saw the majority of his snaps at left guard, alongside the starting unit. With the start of training camp just over a month away, it is clear that New England has high hopes for its first-round selection.

On the opposite side, guard Michael Onwenu appears to have inherited Mason’s spot on the line. Throughout his two years in New England, he has shown a consistent and impressive ability to overwhelm defenders in the run game, while anchoring well to protecting the passer. It is a rare occasion on which he is easily bypassed on a pass block. Onwenu was thought to be the primary choice to replace ex-lineman Ted Karras at left guard. However, based on his usage during OTAs and minicamp, it appears that the former Michigan Wolverine will be taking snaps at right guard at the start of the 2022 season. He also is amazingly affordable, carrying a salary cap number of only $945,617 for the upcoming season.

Though the price in draft capital for Cole Strange’s services was a bit high, the financial return on investment, as well as the logistical value provided by both he and Onwenu, may see the Pats looking pretty frugal for 2022 and beyond.