The New England Patriots have a major decision to make this upcoming offseason with impending free agent safety Kyle Dugger.

Amid a downtrodden season with nearly nothing to look forward to aside from draft capital, Dugger stood out. So much so that even former New England linebacker and two-time Super Bowl champion Rob Ninkovich views the 27-year-old as a must-keep as the Patriots look to put one of their all-time worst seasons behind them.

“For me, if you look at Dugger, who is probably one of their best players, he’s going to get a ton of money, somewhere,” Ninkovich said on MassLive’s “Eye on Foxborough” podcast. “I don’t know if the Patriots are going to pay him, but I do know that guys like that don’t grow on trees.”

Dugger, who the Patriots drafted 37th overall in the second round back in 2020, has tied a career-high with 15 starts, recording two interceptions with 63 solo tackles.

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Having gone 4-11 with just two games left to play, there’s no doubt that the Patriots have their offseason work cut out for them. And Ninkovich is adamant about New England prioritizing Dugger as a component of its blueprint toward rebuilding the team into a contender once again.

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“In 2023-24, it’s hard to find a physical, great-tackling secondary piece that you can put out there in the nickel and dime,” Ninkovich explained. “You can put him on a receiver, you can put him on a tight end, or a back that’s really dynamic and he’s going to do a great job on him. Those guys are really, really hard to find.”

Considering how much Dugger has contributed to New England’s secondary, it’s likely the organization holds him in a high light near Ninkovich’s, however, the Patriots won’t be alone. Other teams across the league will compete with New England and lay their offers on the table after Dugger raised his stock value and positioned himself for a payday.

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Featured image via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images