The New England Patriots have nearly 20 players set to hit free agency when the NFL league year opens March 16. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at each one. Next up: safety Devin McCourty.
2021 SEASON REVIEW
For 12 years, Devin McCourty has been the Patriots’ version of the George Foreman Grill: Set it and forget it. But it might be time for them to upgrade to an air fryer.
McCourty, who’s missed just five games his entire career and zero since 2015, is among the NFL’s most reliable players, safety or otherwise. However, with McCourty now 34 years old and set to become a free agent, it’s possible that he’s played his final game in New England, which could benefit from getting younger and more explosive on defense.
Nevertheless, the three-time Super Bowl champion enjoyed another fine season in 2021, racking up three interceptions and 60 tackles while playing in 94% of defensive snaps. McCourty, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger — 14th, 8th and 31st on Pro Football Focus, respectively — combined to create one of the NFL’s best safety groups this season. McCourty might’ve lost a step, but he still played at a high level and his leadership was invaluable.
Recent reports indicate McCourty does not intend to retire, but there hasn’t been a word on a potential new contract with the Patriots. It’s hard to envision one of the most important players of the second Patriots dynasty playing anywhere other than Foxboro, but stranger things have happened in free agency.
With that said, let’s look at cases for and against the Patriots re-signing McCourty this offseason.
CASE FOR RE-SIGNING
Dugger largely has been used as a strong safety and box linebacker, and the Patriots love using Phillips in a variety of roles. Rookie Joshuah Bledsoe, who didn’t play a game in 2021 but drew glowing reviews from teammates and coaches, similarly projects as a swiss-army-knife safety, though he remains an unknown.
So, if the Patriots want a traditional free safety in 2022, McCourty might be their best option. He obviously knows the defense, and also remains a starting-caliber player. Plus, the value of his presence in the locker room can’t be overstated.
If McCourty is willing to sign a reasonable contract, he and the Patriots should find a way to ensure he finishes his career in New England.
CASE AGAINST RE-SIGNING
McCourty’s last contract was for two years with an average salary of $11.5 million. That number must come way down if he’s going to be back in 2022. McCourty one day will enter the Patriots Hall of Fame, but he no longer is worth one of the richest contracts on the defense. New England needs that money to address other issues on the roster, including on the defense.
There also is something to be said for ripping the band-aid (sorry, couldn’t come up with another food metaphor). McCourty is not the future of the safety position for the Patriots, and it might be wise for them to use free agency, the draft or the trade market to find a young, long-term replacement. One of the biggest issues with the Patriots defense over the last few years is a penchant for fading down the stretch — a byproduct of rostering so many older veterans.
That McCourty occasionally lights up the radar gun doesn’t preclude him from losing steam at the end of a long season.
Ultimately, it all comes down to money. If McCourty’s asking price is too high, the Patriots shouldn’t extend themselves for a player who is nearing retirement.