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NFL free agency profile: Deone Bucannon could be a low-risk, high-reward addition to the Patriots defense

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Let’s take a closer look at the Giants’ soon-to-be free agent.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the focus is now entirely on 2020. The next important point on the offseason agenda will be free agency, which starts on March 18 and projects to be a big one for the New England Patriots: not only does the team have 19 players whose current contracts will expire — including quarterback Tom Brady — it also will need to use its limited resources to build a foundation for the upcoming season.

Up until the start of free agency, we will therefore take a look at some players who might interest the Patriots. Today, the series starts with linebacker/safety-hybrid Deone Bucannon.

Player profile

Position: Inside linebacker/Strong safety

Opening day age: 28

Size: 6’1, 211 lbs

Experience: Bucannon originally entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2014 and quickly became a fixture in the team’s secondary due to his versatility and knack for the big-play. The final year of his contract, however, was the least productive of his career up to that point and the Cardinals did eventually not retain him during 2018’s free agency. Bucannon joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a one-year deal, but was released midway through the season. He finished it with the New York Giants.

2019 statistics: 14 games (5 Tampa Bay, 9 New York); 5 quarterback pressures (1 hit, 4 hurries); 26 tackles (2 missed tackles); 14 targets, 10 receptions, 132 yards, 1 touchdown

2019 salary cap hit: $679,412 (Tampa Bay), $473,529 (New York)

Free agency status: Unrestricted

View from New York

We asked Ed Valentine from Big Blue View to share his thoughts on Bucannon:

Deone Bucannon is an interesting player. It wasn’t that long ago when he was an absolute star defender for the Arizona Cardinals, and he is still only heading into his age 28 season.

Bucannon’s star, though, has fallen a long way.

The Giants picked him up mid-season, reuniting him with former Arizona defensive coordinator James Bettcher, after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut him. Bucannon did OK playing mostly as a coverage linebacker in sub packages, but he’s nothing special. His 124.7 passer rating against was the worst of his career, though it was in limited snaps.

I figure someone will take a chance on Bucannon to see if the original ‘Moneybacker’ can still be a useful piece on defense. He will certainly come cheap. With a new coaching staff in place, I would be surprised if that team is the Giants.

Patriots fit

In New England, Patrick Chung has served as a linebacker/safety-hybrid in the likes of Bucannon ever since returning in 2014 from a one-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles. Since then, the former second-round draft pick has proven himself a core presence in the team’s defensive backfield and a regular against opposing tight ends. This is not expected to change in 2020, but the Patriots still have to think about adding a potential heir.

Bucannon, who is five years younger than Chung, might be that even though his recent performances were rather disappointing: he had a terrific first three years in the NFL, but his star began to fade after he suffered an ankle injury late in the 2016 season. Still, the Patriots have an impressive track record of acquiring other teams’ cast-offs and turning them into valuable role players by using them in a way that fits their skill-sets.

What does this mean for Bucannon? For one, he will likely not generate a big free agency market which means that New England a) should be able to bring him in on the cheap and b) would not lose anything in the compensatory draft picks department. Furthermore, he might be put in the ideal scenario for him: on a team that will not ask him to carry the load at the strong safety position right away, and could therefore use him more situation-specific.

Verdict

While chances appear to be low that Bucannon will turn his career around and return to the form that made him one of the NFL’s most intriguing young defenders from 2014 to 2016 — his last few years were simply not good enough to inspire much confidence — the Patriots could still opt to bring him in on a cheap one-year prove-it deal, and to compete for a roster spot as a depth strong safety behind Chung. While he would be no lock to make the team, Bucannon could be a low-risk addition with a potentially high reward.