The New England Patriots currently have the maximum of 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with an offseason trade acquisition.
Name: Jason McCourty
Jersey number: 30
Opening day age: 31
Size: 5’11, 195 lbs.
2017 review: Even though he played on one of the worst teams of all time last year – the 0-16 Cleveland Browns – cornerback Jason McCourty had a pretty solid season. McCourty proved to be one of the few bright spots on the Browns’ 31st ranked defense and a successful free agency addition: He quickly earned one of the starting cornerback spots and ultimately appeared in 14 of his team’s 16 games.
All in all, the former Tennessee Titan played 84.2% of Cleveland’s snaps (899 of 1,068) as a fixture on the defensive perimeter. Even though he missed two games with an ankle injury, McCourty finished the season as the Brown’s leader in both interceptions (three; one of which returned for a touchdown) and pass deflections (14). Furthermore, he finished fourth on the team with 65 tackles – five of which for loss – and also forced two fumbles.
His statistical success reflects how well McCourty played in Cleveland’s press-man scheme and was able to hold his own despite the dearth of consistently performing talent surrounding him. Playing well in one-on-one coverage but also frequently defending the run well, the former sixth-round draft pick earned the 27th highest grade for all cornerbacks in the NFL last year by advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus.
Despite being one of the Browns’ best players last season, the team opted to move on from McCourty after the season. The 2017 starter was scheduled to hit Cleveland’s salary cap with a relatively modest $2.97 million but the number was apparently deemed to high for the organization’s decision makers which is why the Browns opted to release McCourty – or so everyone thought at first.
2018 preview: While early reports stated that Cleveland was to simply cut McCourty in mid-March, the Patriots were able to secure a trade before the ultimate release: New England sent a sixth-round selection to the Browns to get the veteran cornerback as well as a seventh-round selection. When all was said and done, the Patriots dropped only 14 late-round spots in the draft to acquire the experienced starting-caliber cornerback.
In New England, McCourty is reunited with his twin brother Devin – a team captain and starting free safety – for the first time since the two played at Rutgers in 2008. And even though he is not the same sure-fire lock to be on the 53-man roster come opening day as his brother, the younger McCourty (Jason was born 27 minutes after Devin) has very good chances of making the team and playing significant snaps.
In fact, it would also not be a surprise to see McCourty earn the vacant starting spot opposite number one cornerback Stephon Gilmore: he fared well in the same role last season and has experience playing in a man-to-man coverage scheme. If McCourty therefore performs well in training camp and after limited participation during spring practices, he has a realistic chance to leapfrog Eric Rowe for the number two spot.
Ultimately, McCourty could prove to be one of the Patriots’ best offseason acquisitions this year – at least when it comes to workload: No matter the role he ends up playing (one that primarily depends on the opponent), the 30-year old is expected to be on the field for at least 60% of New England’s defensive snaps and might possibly end up playing close to 100%. In both cases, he would still qualify as a steal.