Patriots’ Moves Over Last Two Years Foretold Patrick Chung’s Retirement

The Patriots are still well-stocked at safety


March 18, 2021

The New England Patriots will miss Patrick Chung, but the team is set up well at safety despite the three-time Super Bowl champion’s retirement.

Chung announced Thursday via Instagram that he is hanging up his cleats. The decision comes after the former Patriots defensive captain considered retiring last offseason prior to opting out for the 2020 season.

There is no single replacement for all that Chung offered the Patriots’ defense, and the 2020 season served as proof. Chung played strong safety, linebacker and slot cornerback in New England. He also played a key role in covering tight ends. It took Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Joejuan Williams and Terrence Brooks to replace him in 2020 to varying degrees of success. You could probably also throw some linebackers, like Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall and Anfernee Jennings into that list, as well.

The Patriots are still well-stocked at safety, however. New England over the last year signed Phillips, picked Dugger in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft and signed versatile defensive back Jalen Mills earlier this week. Starting free safety Devin McCourty is signed through the 2021 season. Jones, Bryant and Williams, all cornerbacks, and special-teamer Cody Davis also have experience at safety.

Cornerback Jason McCourty, who also played safety in 2020, is an unrestricted free agent. Former Patriots safety Duron Harmon also is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and both could potentially be brought back to fill depth roles.

It will be interesting to see how New England puts together its starting defense next season. Here is one possibility:

Defensive line: Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson
Outside linebackers: Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy
Linebackers: Dont’a Hightower, Adrian Phillips
Cornerbacks: Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones
Safeties: Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger

The Patriots like to rotate defenders, so Mills, Bryant, Williams, Hall, Jennings, defensive linemen Deatrich Wise, Byron Cowart and Carl Davis, and linebackers Chase Winovich, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Josh Uche should or could have roles, as well. New England needs one more defensive lineman (maybe a return for Lawrence Guy or Danny Shelton) to fill out the group, as well.

Still, losing Chung stings. He would have added another layer of depth and versatility to the Patriots’ secondary. It always helped that Chung could fill so many different roles because it precluded head coach Bill Belichick from having to use different personnel packages against varying offensive alignments. Chung could stay on the field whether the opposing offense was using two running backs, two tight ends or three wide receivers. He was the Swiss Army Knife who could play in the slot one snap, cover a tight end on another and rush the passer on a third. Mills potentially has that versatility, but the Patriots didn’t have a similar player who could do it all in 2020.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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