The New England Patriots can go about replacing opted-out starting strong safety Patrick Chung in one of two ways.
Broken down simply, they can either put the best five defensive backs on the field, or they can replace Chung 1-for-1 with another traditional safety.
Because the Patriots’ five best defensive backs are cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson and Jason McCourty, slot corner Jonathan Jones and free safety Devin McCourty.
If the Patriots choose to replace Chung with a traditional safety in their base-nickel defense, then either Adrian Phillips, Terrence Brooks or rookie Kyle Dugger will take on a starting role.
Jones played 655 total defensive snaps last season. Of those, 440 came in the slot, 125 at wide cornerback, 45 in the box, 38 at free safety and seven on the defensive line. So, Jones did play 83 snaps as a safety last season either in the box or at free safety. He played another 87 snaps, including 23 in Super Bowl LIII, at safety in 2018.
Jones is open to playing more safety in 2020, though there have been no current conversations about him making the switch.
“I think right now we’re just getting installs in, getting everybody acclimated, getting the younger guys in, helping them learn the system and getting everybody ready to go,” Jones said. “We haven’t really gotten into specific roles yet. I’m willing and ready to play any position. We just haven’t gotten to that point yet. We’re just kind of getting in and learning from the basics right now.”
Jones is the Patriots’ fastest defensive back. He’s a better fit for Devin McCourty’s free safety position than he is for Chung’s strong safety role. Top reserve Duron Harmon, who mostly played free safety for the Patriots, was traded this offseason, so Jones might wind up playing more safety this season even if it’s not his starting role.
If Jones did get switched, then Jason McCourty likely would take on a bigger role in the slot. Chung also played in the slot from strong safety at times.
Chung likely won’t have just one replacement because of the versatility he offered. Chung played 332 snaps in the box, 129 in the slot, 115 on the defensive line, 48 at wide corner and 30 at free safety last season. But Jones is one option to replace the opted-out defensive leader.