Why Re-Signing Duron Harmon Was Critical For Patriots’ Secondary

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It’s not uncommon for Bill Belichick to compliment one of his players. But when the New England Patriots coach talks about safety Duron Harmon, he does so glowingly.

That’s why it’s not a major surprise the Patriots reportedly re-signed Harmon to a four-year, $20 million contract, even though he has started just 12 games over his four-year NFL career.

Harmon isn’t a starter, but he might as well be with the amount he’s on the field. He played the 11th-most snaps among Patriots defenders last season in a nickel/dime defensive back role. He shares free safety snaps while allowing Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung to play versatile roles both in the deep half of the field and closer to the line of scrimmage.

Harmon played the eighth-most snaps about Patriots defenders in 2015, the 15th-most in 2014 and the 13th-most in 2013. He’s also a special teams contributor, a playmaker and as durable as any player in the NFL, as he never has missed a game because of injury. He was a healthy scratch in Week 1 of his rookie season and hasn’t missed a game since. He also missed the first game of his career at Rutgers, then never missed another college game.

Belichick has said the Patriots’ defense couldn’t function as well without McCourty and Chung’s versatility. Harmon’s dependability and skill allows McCourty and Chung to play those roles.

“He’s there every day, very consistent, very dependable, and so when he speaks, I think that’s where the leadership comes from,” Belichick said during the 2016 season. “There’s a trust. If he says something, you can count on it. He’ll be there, he’ll come through, and he’ll deliver it.”

That dependability also includes communicating what he sees on the field back to the coaching staff.

“You know with Duron and Devin back there, those are two very smart players,” Belichick also said during the 2016 season. “They’re experienced players. They know what they’re looking for. …

“So it’s not unusual during the course of the game to ask them or for them to comment on something that’s happening or isn’t happening and how the quarterback is reading a certain coverage or a certain look or where receivers are located and so forth. As I said, it’s something where I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of guys throughout my career who have really done a good job with that, and Devin and Duron I would say are two very good ones.”

Most teams use a cornerback as their primary nickel defensive back. But because McCourty has experience at cornerback and can cover tight ends, and because Chung can line up in the slot and also cover tight ends, the Patriots use Harmon in the sub role more than a third corner. Harmon also is just 26 years old and gives the Patriots flexibility if Chung, who will be 30 in August, declines.

It’s difficult to find safeties with range like Harmon’s. And while it might seem like a luxury to have two starting-calber free safeties, Harmon plays enough to have made it a Patriots priority to keep him around.

Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images

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