Patriots’ Secondary Still Loaded Despite Cap-Cutting Duron Harmon Trade

The NFL offseason leads to difficult decisions. Like trading a well-respected former captain to the Detroit Lions.

The Patriots sent safety Duron Harmon to the Lions in a cap-clearing move for a swap of late-round picks. We’re told, despite rumors of the contrary, that a player from the Lions is not coming to New England in the deal.

Trading Duron Harmon saves the Patriots $4.5 million in cap space, which the Patriots need after re-signing Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty and franchising left guard Joe Thuney. The Patriots now have some wiggle room to make additional moves after the start of the new league year Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Harmon played a valuable role in his seven years with the Patriots as a third safety and three-time Super Bowl champion. His propensity for late-game interceptions earned him the nickname, “The Closer” (from yours truly). Harmon’s ability at free safety freed up McCourty to play a versatile role all over the field. Harmon served as valuable insurance when fellow safety Patrick Chung missed time with injury.

Harmon was one of the smartest players on the Patriots’ defense which now will be missing him, linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins and defensive tackle Danny Shelton. The Patriots will need to reload their front seven, but their secondary still is well-stocked.

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The Patriots have Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and JC Jackson as their top outside cornerbacks, Jonathan Jones in the slot and Devin McCourty and Chung as their starting safeties. With Harmon gone, the Patriots likely will shift to more three cornerback looks over three safety alignments. Jason McCourty, Jackson and Jones will take on bigger roles with Harmon gone. Jones also has experience at free safety if the Patriots still want to move around Devin McCourty.

The Patriots’ reserve defensive backs are cornerbacks Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel, Lenzy Pipkins and D’Angelo Ross, and safeties Terrence Brooks, Malik Gant, Obi Melifonwu and Adarius Pickett.

Williams, a 2019 second-round pick, figures to see more playing time now. Ross showed potential in training camp before hitting injured reserve. Brooks played well as Chung’s backup in 2019.

Harmon certainly will be missed, but the Patriots still might have the deepest secondary in the NFL as currently constructed.

The Patriots could look to add some youth at safety now with McCourty and Chung getting up there in age. The Patriots have not drafted a safety since 2015 when they selected Jordan Richards in the second round of the draft.

2020 will be a strange year for the Patriots. Tom Brady is off to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and many of the team’s defensive mainstays New England couldn’t afford. Bill Belichick still is running the show, so there’s reason to be optimistic about the Patriots’ chances, but there’s definitely less certainty than in years past.

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