It doesn’t matter who’s playing safety next to Devin McCourty in 2014. The New England Patriots have one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
If cornerback Darrelle Revis didn’t put the Patriots in the running, Brandon Browner definitely does. The former Seattle Seahawks cornerback reportedly agreed to a three-year deal with New England on Friday night.
Revis will obviously be the No. 1 cornerback in the Patriots’ defense, but the competition for the No. 2 job will be fierce. Browner is a former Pro Bowl selection, Alfonzo Dennard had a fantastic sophomore season in 2013 and Logan Ryan played his way into over 600 snaps as a rookie last year despite being No. 4 on the depth chart. Ryan, nicknamed “instant offense” by his teammates, had five interceptions, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a touchdown as a rookie.
Browner is a massive presence at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds. He can match up against bigger wide receivers and tight ends that the 5-foot-10 Dennard can’t. The Patriots’ secondary is so good now that Browner might not be more than a situational player, signed to match up with those bigger targets.
Browner will be suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season, so it will give Dennard, Ryan and slot cornerback Kyle Arrington a head start on playing time. But Browner will be able to participate in training camp and the preseason to get acquainted with Bill Belichick’s defense.
The Patriots could go the creative route with Browner. Last training camp, they were using Adrian Wilson in a hybrid linebacker role. Browner could be used in a similar position on third downs, matching up one-on-one with tight ends. Browner is known for his physical play. He won’t get thrown around like some cornerbacks.
The Patriots also experimented with a one-safety set last season. In the base defense, the Patriots could put three cornerbacks on the field at once rather than using a second safety back deep. McCourty is good enough at free safety to man center field by himself.
For years now, the Patriots were constantly shallow in their secondary. With five starting-caliber cornerbacks and one of the league’s best safeties, that is obviously no longer the case.
Just three years ago, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater were thrust into roles in the secondary because the Patriots were so shallow. Belichick has finally addressed that issue.
Second-year safety Duron Harmon will have it easy if he’s thrust into the starting role next to McCourty. He’s going to have physical playmakers who can cover one-on-one.
The Patriots might not have the best secondary in the NFL, but they will definitely be in the running in 2014. The Patriots can improve their pass defense even more with a third pass rusher. They have the cap room.