Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we put the safety position in focus keeping in mind that this is one position that’s morphing as quickly as any in the NFL.
OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES
- Offensive tackle
- Running back
- Edge defenders
- Wide receivers
- Tight ends
- Interior offensive line
- Interior defensive line
- Special teams
HOW THEY PERFORMED
Fine. OK. Pretty good sometimes. But certainly nothing that can be confused with dynamic. In a league stocked with playmaking safeties. They are in the right place and – aside from Jordan Richards - are sure tacklers. They communicate well. They get the concepts of the defense and do their bit on special teams. But the safety group combined for six picks and four of those came from Duron Harmon. Patrick Chung was murder on tight ends in coverage but the third-down performances in some of the team’s biggest games was abysmal. The Steelers and Eagles were both 10 for 16 on third down and the Jags were 4 for 6 in the first half of the AFCCG. Devin McCourty played with an injured shoulder down the stretch that has since been surgically repaired but he just didn’t have a lot of impact plays in 2017. Richards, after three seasons in the league, has a handful of nice tackles as a box safety. Other than that, he’s got a very long way to go in a very short amount of time to approach the level of play expected from a second-round pick.
WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Devin McCourty, David Jones, Damarius Travis
HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?
Not dire at all. But looming. McCourty is signed through 2019 and has a $13.4M cap hit next season when he’ll be 31. Chung is 30 and entering the last year of his deal. Harmon is signed through 2020 and is just 27. Unless the team thinks Richards is the heir apparent to Chung – which would be alarming – they need to get back in the draft pool to find someone at what I believe is one of the NFL’s most important positions. The team puts so much on both Chung and McCourty that it will take years for a new player to gain the depth of knowledge and nuance at the spot. And then there’s the versatility and kicking game expectations they deal with. Whether its in the draft or in free agency, spending needs to be done. But for this year, the need is a 5.
WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY
This is a position stocked with talented young players. Here are some of them: Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett, the Rams’ LaMarcus Joyner, Kenny Vaccaro from the Saints, San Fran’s Eric Reid and Tre Boston from the Chargers. Vaccaro’s coming off an injury. Burnett and Joyner are both going to be high-cost options. Reid is already anticipating some teams steering clear of him because of his outspoken support for Colin Kaepernick. Further down the free agent chain are players like Boston who was outstanding in 2017. Reid, Vaccaro and Boston are players the Patriots could target. Boston is the youngest and healthiest of the group and already theorizes that he will probably move on from the Chargers.
WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?
Alabama has a pair of safeties who’ll be coveted, the first being Minkah Fitzpatrick who is a top-10 prospect. The other is Ronnie Harrison. Stuck in between those two as a top-20 prospect is Derwin James from Florida State. The reason I could see the Patriots taking a safety in the first two rounds is because the right one can address myriad needs – coverage at the linebacker level, run-support and playmaking. Stanford’s Justin Reid (6-1, 204 pounds) and Va. Tech’s Terrell Edmunds (6-2, 220) are bookends to the type of safety builds the Patriots could use.
HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT?
Make a run at Tre Boston. If the price is too high, settle on Edmunds or Reid.