He was a free agent so important to the New England Patriots, the organization made sure he didn’t even get to free agency.

The Patriots signed veteran safety Devin McCourty to a two-year contract March 15 before the NFL’s legal tampering period began. The deal, worth $23 million over the two-year span, previously prompted praise from those around the NFL.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell is now among them.

Barnwell on Friday graded a flurry of what he believes are the best free-agency moves. The Patriots, specifically, earned a B-plus for the McCourty signing. (Notably, the ESPN Staff Writer admitted to only giving nine grades of B-plus or higher.)

Here’s what Barnwell had to say:

While there were rumors that one of the organizations stocked with former Patriots coaches and executives would make a run at McCourty, the presence of twin brother Jason and coach Bill Belichick made it more likely that the 10-year veteran would return to his only professional home. The two-time Pro Bowler was one of the best safeties in football a year ago, picking off five passes for the first time since 2012 while allowing a passer rating of just 50.6 as the nearest defender in coverage. This is hardly top-of-the-market money for a safety, so while McCourty is likely to have most or all of this deal guaranteed up front, it’s a logical win-win for both sides.

One other subtle thing about this deal is the structure. McCourty was New England’s second-most-pressing free agent behind Tom Brady and the only other player the team was likely to consider signing to a deal north of $10 million per year. If the Pats were desperately concerned about their cap space, they would have given McCourty a longer deal with a big signing bonus to try to create short-term cap room. 

McCourty opened up about his decision to re-sign with the Patriots, and fans certainly will be happy to have him back in New England.

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