Patriots’ Latest Free-Agent Signing Essentially Replaces Two Lost Safeties


March 19, 2020

After losing two safeties in consecutive days, the New England Patriots replenished their positional depth Thursday by signing Adrian Phillips.

The Patriots traded safety Duron Harmon on Wednesday and had Nate Ebner signed away by the New York Giants on Thursday. Phillips, like Harmon, can serve as defensive depth. He was a Pro Bowl selection and first-team All-Pro as a special teamer in 2018 with the Los Angeles Chargers, so he also can take over Ebner’s primary role.

Harmon played free safety in the Patriots’ defense, while Phillips plays closer to the line of scrimmage. Phillips broke his arm in 2019 but started five of seven games he played. He’s started 24 games since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Texas in 2014.

Phillips played all over the Chargers’ defense from linebacker to strong and free safety and into the slot. He has 251 career tackles with 18 pass breakups, five interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Phillips allowed 12 catches on 14 targets for 75 yards in 2019. He let up 38 catches on 67 targets for 564 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in 2019, including two postseason games. He allowed five catches on seven targets for 70 yards in the Patriots’ divisional-round win over the Chargers in 2018 while primarily covering running back James White.

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Phillips is known for his smarts.

“He’s extremely intelligent,” Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley told reporters in 2018. “He can play strong safety, free safety, dime and nickel for us, and we’d feel extremely comfortable if he was in any of those positions. So that intelligence (is impressive). He’s got a football IQ that is, to say compare him to anybody, he’s just one of the most elite guys in that area that I’ve ever been around.”

He joins Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Terrence Brooks, Malik Gant, Obi Melifonwu and Adarius Pickett on the Patriots’ safety depth chart. Patriots cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Jason McCourty also can play safety.

Phillips likely will take over Harmon’s spot as the Patriots’ No. 3 safety. His skill set is slightly redundant with Chung and Brooks’,  but it’s possible the Patriots also could go with a smaller defensive alignment and use Phillips to fill vacancies left by linebackers Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, all of whom left in free agency.

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