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With Jennings deal, Patriots end lengthy homegrown free agent drought

It’s been a while.

By bringing back Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Mike Onwenu — all members of the 2020 rookie class — the Patriots have ended a lengthy drought in terms of their ability to re-sign their own draft picks.

Onwenu agreed to a three-year deal that will pay him near the top of the guard market at $19 million per year. Jennings also came to terms on a three-year pact during the legal tampering period, and Uche agreed to a one-year deal early this week.

The Patriots hadn’t given a draft pick taken in the first three rounds a new multi-year deal since Duron Harmon — a third-rounder in 2013 — who was extended in 2017 on a four-year contract. The new deal for Jennings, a third-rounder four years ago, resets the clock on that ignominious reality.

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Onwenu’s contract, agreed to before Jennings’, was just the fifth multi-year extension given to a non-specialist drafted by the Patriots since 2014. Prior to Onwenu, the Patriots draft picks who’d earned lengthy extensions were James White, Shaq Mason, Deatrich Wise and Ja’Whaun Bentley. (Punter Jake Bailey and long-snapper Joe Cardona also inked extensions with the team in that span.)

Uche, meanwhile, is the Patriots’ first Round 1 or Round 2 pick since Dont’a Hightower (2012 draft class) to sign a new contract with New England. His deal is reportedly for one year, with $2.3 million guaranteed.

De facto general manager Eliot Wolf came up in the NFL in the “Packer Way,” which is about identifying “core” players and re-signing them. Not all the above names would qualify for that kind of billing, but keeping contributors in the fold certainly seems to be a priority for the new personnel chief in Foxboro.

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