Patriots 2023 offseason: Assessing the state of the safety position
Curran: Why Pats should prioritize the safety position this offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Patriots have a Pro Bowl-level safety in Kyle Dugger and steady veteran Adrian Phillips. Longtime standout Devin McCourty is debating retirement after another solid season.
Jabrill Peppers, added last offseason, had a productive season playing a bunch in the box in run support in sub defenses. Veteran Cody Davis is strictly a special-teamer. Joshuah Bledsoe, a sixth-rounder in 2021, got into three games last year.
Dugger is a difference-maker. Pro Football Focus had him 11th out of 99 safeties in overall rankling. A second-rounder in 2020 from Lenoir-Rhyne, he’s been one of the better selections the team’s made in the past 10 drafts. In 2022, he scored twice on interception returns and once on a fumble return. He made 78 tackles. His range and physicality give the Patriots speed they need to compete in the AFC East.
Phillips will be 31 this season. He was ranked 21st among safeties. He’s entering his fourth season with the team and is coming off a 66-tackle season. He played 62 percent of the snaps, a number that will rise if McCourty heads out. Dugger played 74 percent of the defensive snaps, Phillips played 64 and McCourty played 97 percent, his most since 2018.
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McCourty had four picks (could have been more if it weren’t for a couple drops) and 71 tackles. Good work for 35. He was ranked 33rd among safeties. Pepper was actually 16th among safeties for Pro Football Focus. He had one of the league’s highest grades against the run among safeties.
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McCourty is likely to make an announcement on retiring this week. If he hangs ‘em up, the Patriots will have a chunk of dead money hitting their cap.
Peppers’ contract is up. This is the last year of Dugger’s deal and he will be a sought-after free agent going into 2024 if the Patriots don’t sew him up. Phillips has two years left on his deal with cap his over $4M. He’s been an excellent free agent signing.
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Re-signing Peppers and laying a foundation to keep Dugger seem priorities in the short term while drafting the position should be a priority as well.