The New England Patriots have more than 20 players set to hit free agency when the NFL league year opens March 15. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at each one. Next up: safety Jabrill Peppers.
2022 SEASON REVIEW
Long viewed as a potential Patriots fit for his defensive versatility, Peppers signed with New England in free agency last March and carved out a role as a depth safety and core special teamer.
The 27-year-old was the fourth man on the depth chart in the Patriots’ deepest position group, so playing time wasn’t always prevalent for Peppers. His 35% snap rate in games he appeared in was the lowest of his career by a wide margin.
But Peppers brought a rare level of physicality that made him an asset to New England’s defense and kicking-game units. His run defense grade on Pro Football Focus was the seventh-highest among 82 qualified safeties, and he delivered what special teams captain Matthew Slater called “maybe the best block in the return game we’ve had all year” to spring Marcus Jones on a Week 8 punt return.
“Have you seen the guy? The guy looks like the Incredible Hulk,” Slater said. “It’s muscles on top of muscles. So physicality’s an understatement when you talk about his game. He certainly embraces it, and the way he’s able to really roll his hips in short-area contact, whether it’s defensively or in the kicking game, it’s super impressive.”
PFF also credited Peppers with just two missed tackles all season. As a coverage player, he allowed 17 catches on 21 targets for 105 yards and no touchdowns.
As he had in his previous stops with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants, Peppers rotated between a variety of defensive alignments:
Free safety: 42
Wide corner: 28
Peppers’ playing time spiked in the two games Kyle Dugger missed and when injuries depleted the Patriots’ cornerback group late in the season. He played a season-high 45 defensive snaps in a Week 17 win over Miami, during which New England frequently deployed all four of their veteran safeties on the field together.
The Michigan product also totaled 269 snaps on special teams, seventh-most on the team.
CASE FOR RE-SIGNING
The Patriots’ loaded safety group was integral to their ability to disguise coverages and confuse opposing offenses, and they could lose a key member of it this offseason with Devin McCourty considering retirement.
Peppers, who played on an affordable one-year, $2 million contract this season, doesn’t have the skill set to directly replace McCourty, but re-signing him to another budget deal would allow the Patriots to maintain some of their valuable secondary depth and potentially shift Dugger and Adrian Phillips around to different spots.
CASE AGAINST RE-SIGNING
Dugger, Phillips and Peppers all are similar players, so the Patriots might view having all three on the roster as an unnecessary luxury moving forward. Plus, none of them profiles as a 1-for-1 McCourty replacement.
If McCourty retires and the Patriots choose to fill that void by signing one of the several accomplished safeties who are scheduled to hit free agency, there might not be room in the budget to also bring back Pepers.
More Patriots free agent profiles: Jakobi Meyers | Damien Harris | Nelson Agholor | Jonathan Jones | Isaiah Wynn | Daniel Ekuale | Conor McDermott | Yodny Cajuste