Patriots safety Kyle Dugger is a tremendous football player and has been since he was drafted by New England in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Is he going to continue showcasing his value for the Patriots? That remains to be seen.

It’s one of the questions that looms large over New England ahead of free agency, as Dugger is set to hit the open market for the very first time. He’s proven his value over the last four seasons, serving as one of the more productive and versatile members of a few very good defensive units, and is facing perhaps his only opportunity to cash in. Dugger didn’t reveal much about his thoughts on free agency during the year but did hire new representation in January, so it wouldn’t surprise us to see him take the highest offer.

The Patriots shouldn’t have a problem making that bid, though their willingness to spend big should only come under specific circumstances.

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New England should let Dugger go back to being the uber-versatile chess piece of their defense.

Devin McCourty’s retirement forced the Patriots into utilizing Dugger in a different role last season, as he played the majority of his snaps at deep safety. He registered a career-high 616 coverage snaps, according to PFF, which saw his overall grade (61.7) and coverage grade (50.0) hit career-worst marks.

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Is PFF the be-all and end-all? No, but it pretty accurately demonstrated that he was miscast in the new role. Dugger wasn’t able to make quite as many plays when lined up outside the box, though he stayed healthy throughout the entire season. Can he adjust to the new role and find success? Yes. Is he the best box safety in the NFL when utilized correctly? Yes.

Patriots defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington has made it clear he intends to tweak the team’s defensive identity, promoting a more “aggressive’ style of play. That fits Dugger perfectly, but not if he’s going to be lined up 18 yards off the line of scrimmage.

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The Patriots aren’t the only team who know how Dugger is best used, either, so they’ll have competition trying to re-sign him, but it’s no secret that a guy who will soon turn turn 28 isn’t exactly a spring chicken.

It’ll be pretty costly, but bringing Dugger back is one of the biggest things New England can do to continue thriving defensively.

Featured image via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images