The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts in late July, currently have 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s secondary.
Name: Jason McCourty
Jersey number: 30
Opening day age: 32
Size: 5’11, 195 lbs.
2018 review: Even though he was one of their better defensive backs in 2017, the Cleveland Browns opted to put Jason McCourty on the trade block following their 0-16 season. With no teams initially expressing interest, the team was ready to release the veteran cornerback — which is when the Patriots jumped in: New England sent a sixth-round draft pick to Cleveland to acquire McCourty and a seventh-round selection.
What neither team knew at the time was that the Patriots effectively secured a starting defender for a drop of fourteen late-round draft spots. It did not look like that early on during McCourty’s tenure with his new club, however: the twin brother of New England safety Devin McCourty spent training camp behind Eric Rowe on the depth chart, but emerged after the nominal number two cornerback suffered a groin injury in week two of the regular season.
From that point on, McCourty thrived. He proved himself to be a reliable and flexible presence in the Patriots’ secondary that lined up both on the perimeter but also looked comfortable playing in the slot. In this versatile role, he played 834 of New England’s 1,043 defensive snaps during the regular season (80.0%) — the second most among the team’s cornerbacks behind only All-Pro selection Stephon Gilmore.
Even though McCourty’s playing time fluctuated a bit over the second half of the regular season due to the emergence of undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson, the veteran still showed his value on a regular basis — especially during the postseason: playing 87.8% of the Patriots’ snaps in the playoffs (165 of 188), McCourty showed that the spotlight was not too bright for him after having missed out on the tournament in each of his first nine years in the NFL.
This was particularly evident during New England’s Super Bowl win. McCourty, who was on the field for all 65 defensive snaps against the Los Angeles Rams, made one of the game’s most important and most impressive defensive plays when he knocked the football out of wide receiver Brandin Cooks’ hands on a would-be-touchdown. The pass breakup helped the Patriots stay on top 3-0 midway through the third period.
All in all, McCourty’s 2018 season was a successful one not just when compared to his 2017 campaign with the Browns: he also showed his abilities as a man-to-man cornerback week-in and week-out. On the season, McCourty appeared in all nineteen of New England’s games and surrendered just 48 catches on 90 targets for 795 yards, 5 touchdowns and 1 interception — not particularly outstanding numbers but still very solid for an important player in the Patriots’ secondary.
2019 preview: McCourty was scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency after the 2018 season, but never made it to the open market: New England re-signed the 31-year-old on a two-year, $10 million contract that will hit the world champions’ books with a cap hit of $4.25 million this year — the second highest of all cornerbacks on the Patriots’ pay roll behind the aforementioned Gilmore, and reflective of his role on the team.
Heading into 2019, McCourty is again projected to serve as the rotational second/third cornerback on the opposite side of Gilmore: he will line up primarily on the boundary again, but move inside on occasion when Jackson enters the field. In general, the veteran and the youngster will likely share time as the number two again throughout the 2019 season — a matchup-dependent usage that worked well for both last season.
As a result, McCourty will likely be on the field for around 70-80% of New England’s defensive snaps again this year and also be a regular and special teams: he played a total of 129 of the Patriots’ 545 kicking game snaps last year (23.7%) and projects to see a similar playing time share in 2019. Despite turning 32 in August, McCourty will therefore once more play a prominent role for the club.