The Patriots have 22 players set to hit unrestricted free agency when the NFL league year opens March 17. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at New England’s free agents. Up next: cornerback Jason McCourty.
2020 stats: 43 tackles, three passes defended, 21 receptions allowed on 33 targets for 319 yards and four touchdowns in 16 games
Likelihood of return: Moderate
Analysis: McCourty’s odds of re-signing will depend in part on whether he plans to return for a 13th pro season. He turns 34 in August and said late in the 2020 campaign he had yet to make a final decision on potential retirement.
“That’s something I think that I’ll evaluate in the offseason,” McCourty said after the Patriots were blown out by the Buffalo Bills in Week 16. “For me, this is Year 12, so when you get this high up in numbers, I think each year, you have to evaluate. Obviously, I’ll be a free agent. You have to evaluate situations, family and the whole nine. So I think a little bit deeper into the offseason is when I’ll probably have to make that decision and talk to my wife and decide what’s next for us in our lives.”
The Patriots expanded the scope of McCourty’s responsibilities this past season, playing him at both cornerback and safety after trading away Duron Harmon and losing Patrick Chung to a preseason opt-out. Out of his 665 defensive snaps, he played 401 at wide corner, 112 at slot corner, 100 in the box, 46 at free safety and six on the defensive line.
McCourty was almost exclusively a perimeter corner earlier in his career, adding more slot duties to his plate after joining his twin brother in New England in 2018. This was his most versatile season yet.
Listed cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant also played hybrid roles in 2020.
As for performance, McCourty allowed a 135.0 passer rating against that was sixth-worst among cornerbacks with at least 100 coverage snaps and his highest personal mark since his rookie season in 2009. He ranked third in coverage snaps per reception allowed (18.1), however, behind only San Francisco’s Richard Sherman and Baltimore’s Jimmy Smith (Jalen Ramsey was fourth) and 13th in yards allowed per coverage snap (0.81).
NFL Next Gen Stats tracks a stat called “improbable completions” that factors in air yards, receiver separation and proximity to the sideline, among other factors. According to their calculations, two of the four touchdowns McCourty allowed came on the two most improbable completions of the season.
Joe Flacco’s hookup with Jamison Crowder in Week 9 had a 6.2 percent completion probability, per Next Gen Stats, and Russell Wilson’s Week 2 strike to David Moore checked in at 6.3 percent. No other completion in any game this season was below 10 percent.
McCourty also allowed fewer than 50 receiving yards in all but one of his 16 appearances and fewer than 25 yards in all but four, so that unsightly passer rating is a bit misleading.
If he puts off retirement, McCourty still can provide value as an affordable veteran leader and versatile depth piece, especially if the Patriots opt to trade All-Pro Stephon Gilmore this offseason. New England also faces some uncertainty with No. 2 corner J.C. Jackson, who’s set to hit restricted free agency.
All coverage and snap count stats via Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.