Patriots should prioritize extension for ‘all-in' Kyle Dugger

Patriots should prioritize extension for ‘all-in' Kyle Dugger originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

FOXBORO -- Kyle Dugger understands he's in the final year of his rookie contract. He understands that his future is uncertain. He's not sure if, once the offseason arrives, he'll be hitting free agency or if something will have occurred by then to make him a Patriots staple for the foreseeable future.

"I really can't tell. I really don't have an idea," he said Wednesday. "It's hard for me to think about all that. [Athlete's First agent Ryan Williams] kind of respectfully allows me to focus on ball. He keeps me out of that kind of stuff, which I've asked him to do."

But less than 24 hours after the passing of the NFL's trade deadline -- a period of time when Dugger's name was thrown around as a candidate to be moved -- the versatile safety said he was happy to remain in New England. Even with the understanding that he could be elsewhere in a matter of months, there's a level of investment he feels for the Patriots. He wants to be part of the solution for a team mired in a 2-6 season trending in the wrong direction.

"I feel like I'm all-in," he said. "I feel like that's the only way to be, regardless of anything else. I feel like really kind of looking outside of that, that's a recipe for disaster. I feel like I'm all-in. Trying to be in the present as much as possible and fix things, get things going right now where we're at."

He added: "I still feel like it's a special group, regardless of the outcomes thus far this season. I feel like I want to be part of that. I want to continue to build with this group."

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Dugger's representation and the Patriots discussed the possibility of a new contract prior to the start of the 2023 season, but once the year began, Dugger made it clear he wanted to focus on playing football and helping to lead his team in his own, relatively quiet, manner.

"I want to be whatever the team needs, and that in itself is a form of leadership. I feel like it's the best form of leadership," Dugger said. "Not necessarily being the vocal guy or whatever, but whatever the team needs, I definitely want to be that."

Dugger likes the idea of continuing to be that for the Patriots, in the same way that one of his locker room mentors, Devin McCourty, was for over a decade.

"That was Dev," Dugger said. "He was all of that. He did everything the right way in this building. It was easy to just kind of sit back and watch him. He was right next to me. But everything he did as far as taking care of his body, taking notes, how he talked to guys, yeah I had a great example."

Now that it's clear that another team didn't pry Dugger from the Patriots at the deadline, it would stand to reason that the team would do what it can to extend the 27-year-old and prevent him from landing elsewhere.

If the two sides could work out an extension, the 2020 second-rounder out of Lenoir-Rhyne would be the first draft pick to get a second contract in Foxboro since 2019 fifth-round punter Jake Bailey. He'd be the first top-three-round choice to re-up with the Patriots since 2013 third-rounder Duron Harmon.

If the Patriots want some semblance of continuity from the core of their locker room, Dugger might be the most logical place to start. He hasn't made a Pro Bowl or been selected to an All-Pro team, but he provides the kind of do-it-all ability that has helped drive Bill Belichick, Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo's defense over the last several seasons.

And while he might not be the voice of the locker room the way McCourty was in the later stages of his career, Dugger's study habits and behind-the-scenes work have made him someone that the personnel staff in New England would like to keep around for the long haul.

But will Bill Belichick feel that way if Dugger hits the market and finds what his value is elsewhere in the league? And will Belichick be making that call when the time arrives for it to be made?

Dugger's next contract is an interesting one to peg because, at 27, he's older than most in the final year of their rookie deal. He has proven on-the-ball production -- he has eight interceptions, 16 pass breakups, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and three defensive scores in three-and-a-half seasons -- but he doesn't have the same end-of-the-year honors as some of the game's highest-paid safeties.

Through his age 25 season, the first five years of his career, former Saints safety Marcus Williams had 15 picks and three forced fumbles. Therefore, the five-year, $70 million contract with $37 million guaranteed he signed with the Ravens prior to the start of the 2022 season would seem to approach the ceiling of what Dugger could expect.

Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs, at 29, signed a three-year deal worth $39 million with $27 million guaranteed but was a three-time Pro Bowler between 2020 and 2022. Maybe that, or something even a tick below, would be a better comp.

Whatever the going rate ends up being for a player of Dugger's skill set, the Patriots should consider doing what they can -- even if that means being the highest bidder -- to keep him around. Otherwise they risk losing one of their best and having to try to replace him in the draft, or free agency, or with an unknown player already on the roster like Marte Mapu.

Dugger wasn't traded, meaning the Patriots still have exclusive rights to negotiate a new deal with him.

He's a rare recent draft-day success story in New England.

He's "all-in" on helping a losing team get itself turned around.

And the Patriots aren't in position to allow good players to walk. (Even if they were, they likely wouldn't get a comp pick in return for his departure.)

Add it all up, and it should mean an extension.