Patriots

McCourty on move to corner: 'I hope it's not permanent'

new-england-patriots-devin-mccourty-saints-82215.jpg

McCourty on move to corner: 'I hope it's not permanent'

NEW ORLEANS - Devin McCourty wasn't all that enthused about playing cornerback against the Saints on Saturday night. 

"I hope it's not permanent," he said after the Patriots beat New Orleans in their second preseason game, 26-24. "As a player, that's out of your control."

McCourty was lauded by Patriots coach Bill Belichick for having a positive play early in the game when he broke up a would-be touchdown catch to fellow Rutgers product Brandon Coleman. It wasn't all highlights for McCourty as he got reps on the outside, however. 

He allowed a short completion to talented second-year Saints wideout Brandin Cooks in the first quarter, and Cooks wiggled out of McCourty's grasp for a seven-yard gain. On the next Saints series, quarterback Drew Brees found Cooks again, this time deep down the field for a 45-yard score. McCourty did not appear to have Cooks in man coverage on the play, but Cooks got behind safety Duron Harmon.

Harmon was, of course, playing the role that has been assumed by McCourty in the Patriots defensive backfield for the last two-and-a-half seasons. 

"It's the first time I've played corner in a game, I think, in like three years," McCourty said of moving back to the position he played for the first two full seasons of his NFL career, "so obviously it's a lot of frustration but you just gotta play."

He added: "It didn't feel great, and I don't think it looked great so we'll see."

McCourty has seen practice time at corner for the last week, but he made it clear this offseason that he considered himself a safety, and he said on Comcast SportsNet New England that it was his intention to stay there.

When Belichick was asked about McCourty's versatility earlier this week, he said that using players at various positions can help prepare them if an issue crops up during the regular season.

"Devin's been out here every day," Belichick said. "He's worked hard. He gives us a lot of leadership and a lot of versatility on our defense. He's done a good job, and we try to get a lot of players different . . . work them in different roles so when we eventually get to those during the season that they'll at least have some background in it."

Playing the cornerback position, McCourty made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2010. But during the 2012 season he transitioned to safety, and in 2013 he began the season at the back end of the Patriots secondary and thrived, being named a Second-Team All-Pro for his performance.

Last season, McCourty further established himself as one of the best in the league at his position while working alongside safety Patrick Chung and corners Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. 

Since Revis and Browner have departed via free agency, there is some uncertainty at the cornerback position for the Patriots, and McCourty appears to have been added to what looks like a hazy picture in terms of the team's top options on the outside.

McCourty signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract in the offseason, making him the highest-paid safety in the NFL. He said after Saturday's game that he feels most comfortable at that spot. 

"Obviously, I think any player you think you're a good player," he said. "I can't assess that. I think a lot of people have different opinions. I feel comfortable when I'm there, and I think I'm a decent player. But it doesn't matter if I'm not there, I guess."

Asked if he was frustrated by being moved around in the Patriots secondary, McCourty replied: "I really don't think it matters. You can't control where you play. Everyone's going to play in a position for the team. Overall that's what's best for the team. I don't think what you think or how you feel matters."

As franchise tag window opens, potential Patriots-Flowers marriage about to get complicated?

As franchise tag window opens, potential Patriots-Flowers marriage about to get complicated?

You don't need to be Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio to see that if money were no object, retaining Trey Flowers for the foreseeable future would be in New England's best interests. 

Drafted in the fourth round in 2015, Flowers has been arguably the team's best defensive player since 2016, serving as a key component to two Super Bowl-winning defenses. He doesn't have eye-popping sack numbers (21.0 in three seasons), but he plays the edge just as the Patriots like: He's a more-than-effective run-stuffer when asked; he can maneuver up and down the line of scrimmage in passing situations to win one-on-ones with tight ends, tackles or interior linemen; and he can impact opposing offenses by running two or three-man games up front to generate pressure. He's also established himself as a leader in the locker room and handles himself off the field with the kind of quiet demeanor the Patriots seem to value. 

But, of course, money matters, and as Flowers is set to hit unrestricted free agency, there's only one card the Patriots can pull to truly ensure that he's back for 2019: the franchise tag. 

The window to tag players begins on Tuesday and ends at 4 p.m. on March 5. Based on a $190 million salary cap -- the league projected in December it would fall in that range -- the franchise tag number for a defensive end would be about $17.3 million. 

Would the Patriots ever go to those lengths to keep Flowers for next season?

If you look at the team's history of the tag, it's not something to which they've typically resorted. Since 2002, they've used it just nine times, and only three times did players play out the season on their one-year guarantee: Adam Vinatieri in 2005 (departed as a free agent the following year), Asante Samuel in 2007 (departed as a free agent the following year) and Wes Welker in 2012 (departed as a free agent the following year). The last time the Patriots used the tag was in 2015 on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who signed an extension thereafter. 

Keeping Flowers on a one-year guarantee for $17.3 million (and a $17.3 million cap hit), would give him the second-highest cap hit on the team behind only Tom Brady ($27 million), who could agree to an extension this offseason that would reduce his figure. 

The Patriots might like the idea of locking up their most consistent front-seven player for one more year to make another title run. Or the tag might be an effective way for the team to buy itself more time to eventually come to a long-term extension. But based on that $17.3 million amount -- the second-highest tag number behind only quarterbacks -- it's not unreasonable to assume the Patriots wouldn't go there, especially since the Patriots have only about $18 million in cap space at the moment. While contract restructures, releases and potential retirements would boost New England's cap space, keeping Flowers on the tag might limit what the Patriots can do to address other needs.

Even if the Patriots don't act during the tag window, what transpires around the league with the franchise tag could impact the team's ability to sign Flowers long-term. 

For instance, the defensive end free agent class is scheduled to be one of the most star-studded in recent memory. Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, Dee Ford, Demarcus Lawrence, Dante Fowler, Brandon Graham and Ziggy Ansah are all at the ends of their deals. Should a handful of those players end up getting the tag to remain with their teams, that could leave Flowers as the most attractive free agent in the class when the new league year begins. 

If the Patriots approach negotiations with Flowers in a fashion similar to those they had with Dont'a Hightower and Devin McCourty -- allowing him to go to the market to see his value, then taking the opportunity to make an offer of their own -- they may find that he's been offered something exorbitant that would be difficult to match. 

The opposite could be true as well, no doubt. If all of those ends mentioned above end up not being tagged, saturating the market with talent at that position, then Flowers' price tag could become more manageable. 

That's why what happens in the two-week tag window, starting Tuesday, is so critical to the future outlook for the Patriots defense. Even if Belichick and Caserio sit it out, if others don't, that could factor into whether or not Flowers is back.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Patriots reportedly almost traded for Odell Beckham Jr. last offseason

Patriots reportedly almost traded for Odell Beckham Jr. last offseason

Heading into the offseason after yet another Super Bowl win, one of the biggest areas of concerns for the Patriots is wide receiver. 

There were similar concerns this time last season. The team eventually shored up the position by trading for Cordarrelle Patterson and Josh Gordon, but Patterson is a free agent and Gordon's return to the team is still up in the air. 

Neither move might've happened if the Patriots had succeeded in their pursuit of one star player in 2018. 

On Pro Football Talk Live, Chris Simms reported that the Patriots were frontrunners to land star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. when the Giants were shopping him last offseason. 

"From everything I know, from multiple sources, the thing that stopped the trade conversation with Odell Beckham Jr. is because the team that was most aggressive in pursuing him was the New England Patriots. The New England Patriots were trying to get Odell Beckham Jr. all last offseason." 

MORE PATRIOTS

If the trade went through, last season might've turned out quite differently for New England. Beckham Jr. would have been the most talented wideout Tom Brady had thrown to in years. Gordon put up 737 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games with the Patriots. What kind of numbers could Beckham Jr. have put up if he was catching passes from Brady over the course of a full season?

With receiver remaining a weak spot in New England and continued rumors that the Giants may move on from Beckham Jr. sooner rather than later, the Patriots may have another chance. He isn't a typical Patriot with his hefty contract and constant presence in the media, but Bill Belichick is trying to maximize the last leg of Brady's career. No one can predict what he's up to in Foxboro. 

Time will only tell if the Pats take another swing at the supremely talented receiver. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.