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2020 NFL free agency: What re-signing safety Devin McCourty means for the Patriots

Related: Impending free agent Devin McCourty announces his return to Patriots

NFL: NOV 24 Cowboys at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sunday was a busy day for the New England Patriots. Not only did they see the new collective bargaining agreement get ratified — which is good news for the team’s quest to re-sign star quarterback Tom Brady — and league set the salary cap at $198.2 million for the 2020 season, they also brought two impending free agents back into the fold: first, the Patriots placed the original fifth-round tender on guard Jermaine Eluemunor, then safety Devin McCourty took to his podcast to announce that he has re-signed with the club.

McCourty’s deal, which reportedly runs for two years and is worth a total of $23 million, is certainly the bigger of the two transactions. Let us therefore find out what exactly it means for New England.

McCourty will likely finish his career with the Patriots

New England invested a first-round draft pick in the Rutgers product back in 2010, and he went on to appear in a combined 178 regular season and playoff games for the organization since — missing only five games over his 10 years in pro football — while being a key member of three Super Bowl-winning squads. Turning 33 in August, McCourty is in the home-stretch of his career and this new contract likely means that he will finish the journey with the team with which it began.

The NFL’s best secondary stays intact...

While the Patriots’ 2019 season ended in disappointment, the team did play some strong football along the way especially on the defensive side of the ball. The performance of a secondary that was the best in the league by a significant margin — and McCourty’s play as one of the unit’s starting members — was a big reason why. McCourty filled his usual versatile role, and eventually finished the campaign with five interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.

McCourty’s value to New England’s defense cannot be underestimated considering that he serves not just as a chess piece capable of moving all over the formation, but also a key communicator within the secondary. Re-signing him therefore was a no-brainer from the Patriots’ perspective, because it ensures that the league’s best secondary stays intact for the time being: cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones as well as safeties Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon are all under contract in 2020. do the McCourty twins

Speaking of Devin McCourty’s twin brother Jason, the cornerback saw his contract option for the new year picked up last week. This means that he will remain a part of the Patriots’ secondary for another year, while he and his brother will be able to play together for a third straight season. And once again, both are expected to fill significant roles within the defense: while Devin will rarely leave the field as New England’s starting free safety, Jason will serve as a starter/top rotational option along the perimeter.

New England’s salary cap space will decrease substantially

McCourty is one of the best safeties in all of football due to his high football IQ and elite athletic skillset, and coming off arguably the best season of his career. As a result, re-signing him did not come cheap despite both sides working hard to ensure that the veteran and future (at least) Patriots Hall of Famer remains in New England. The reported cost of the new contract — $23 million spread out over two years — illustrates this.

This means, of course, that the Patriots’ salary cap space will decrease substantially. For the moment, the team has $19.52 million to operate with before McCourty’s contract hits the books. While the new CBA allows New England to back-load the contract into next year when the newly negotiated TV deals are expected to cause a significant increase of the cap, the team will still need to subtract a sizable portion of its cap number as it currently stands.

That being said, the Patriots do have numerous ways to gain financial flexibility. Extending the contracts of cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Dont’a Hightower alone, for example, might create up to $15 million in additional cap space. Releasing four players — wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr, tight end Matt LaCosse — would free up roughly $11 million more.

The Patriots will keep one of their team captains

McCourty’s impact on the field is well documented: on top of being one of the league’s premier safeties, he also is a three-time world champion as well as a two-time Pro Bowler and three-time second-team All-Pro selection. However, his role within New England’s locker room cannot be underestimated either. After all, he has been voted a team captain every year since 2011 and is one of the most vocal members on the roster.

With the Patriots facing an uncertain future in regards to some other leaders on the team — fellow team captains Tom Brady and Elandon Roberts are both also unrestricted free agents — keeping the 32-year-old around is certainly good for a team that will have to undergo a gradual rebuild in the coming years.