The New England Patriots’ continuity at safety over the past five seasons, when they’ve made four Super Bowls and won three, is nothing short of astonishing.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Nate Ebner all have been with the Patriots since at least 2014. Combined, they have 31 years of experience with the Patriots. That kind of continuity is extremely rare at one position in today’s NFL.
So, will they stay together for another season?
Roster locks: Terrence Brooks, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty
On the bubble: Malik Gant, Obi Melifonwu
Practice squad candidates: A.J. Howard
If any of the five players listed as roster locks get released, it would constitute a shocking cut. At the same time, we think the Patriots could keep only four safeties since cornerbacks Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Jason McCourty and Joejuan Williams all can do safety-like things in the Patriots’ defensive backfield.
Jones played safety in Super Bowl LIII. Dawson is a slot defensive back and was viewed by some as a better safety than cornerback coming out of Florida last season. Jason McCourty played some safety early in the 2018 season. Williams is 6-foot-4, 211 pounds and presumably can cover athletic tight ends, a role usually manned by a safety.
We just have no idea who the Patriots would elect to cut out of this group.
Brooks, a special-teamer, has a cap hit of $1.45 million, and his dead cap hit would be $1.305 million if cut. That essentially guarantees him a spot.
Chung just signed another extension. It would cost the Patriots over $3 million in cap space to cut him.
The Patriots aren’t exactly tied to Ebner monetarily. They could free up over $2 million of his $2.7875 million cap hit by cutting him. But Ebner still was one of the NFL’s best special teams players last season. We feel it would be a net negative to release him. The Patriots do have a lot of special-teams only players on their roster in Brooks, Ebner, Brandon King, Brandon Bolden and Matthew Slater. But don’t they always?
The Patriots wouldn’t even free up half of Harmon’s $4.75 million cap hit by cutting him, so doing so wouldn’t really make sense from a cap standpoint. He’s still a very good No. 3 safety.
Devin McCourty has a massive $13.435 million cap hit. The Patriots would absorb just a $3.935 million cap hit by cutting him. Parting ways with McCourty makes the most sense from a cap perspective, but if the Patriots were going to do it, they would have before free agency began so they could have used that money to improve the 2019 team.
So, we think all five players stay on board. That means it probably would take an injury for Gant, Melifonwu or Howard to make the team.
Gant didn’t test well coming out of Marshall, which likely led to him going undrafted. He ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash with a 34.5-inch vertical leap, 9-foot, 6-inch broad jump, 4.3-second short shuttle and 7.45-second 3-cone drill at 6-feet, 209 pounds. Quite frankly, those numbers wouldn’t be very good for a linebacker. But Pro Football Focus graded him highly last season.
Melifonwu is an interesting prospect because of his size and athleticism. He hasn’t done much in the NFL since being selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, however. He played just two games for the Patriots last season.
Howard is the longest shot to make the roster. He finished last season on the practice squad.