The New England Patriots have been relatively quiet so far in free agency, but on Thursday they made their biggest signing to date: the team has reportedly picked up safety Adrian Phillips on a two-year deal. A former undrafted rookie signing by the then-San Diego Chargers in 2014, Phillips was developed into a jack-of-all-trades in the team’s defense and a player that should be capable of filling numerous roles in the Patriots’ defensive backfield.
Before getting ahead of ourselves, however, let’s take a closer look at what signing the 27-year-old means for New England.
New England bolsters its safety depth one day after trading Duron Harmon
On Wednesday, the Patriots decided to part ways with one of their longest-tenured defenders when they sent seven-year veteran Duron Harmon to the Detroit Lions via trade. The move did help improve their position on the third day of this year’s draft — they effectively moved up 63 spots to No. 172 in the fifth round — and to clear $3.89 millions off the salary cap, but it also subtracted a player that played a prominent role as New England’s third safety.
With Phillips now in the fold, however, the depth behind projected starting safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung looks solid again on paper. Projecting the newest addition’s success in the Patriots’ defense is of course difficult given all the variables involved, but his experience and skillset should help him carve out a role as the new number three alongside McCourty and Chung.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the team’s safety position currently looks like:
Free safety: Devin McCourty
Strong safety: Patrick Chung, Adrian Phillips, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, Adarius Pickett
As can be seen, the depth behind McCourty is non-existent in this projection. However, Phillips may help address it even though he himself is better suited to serve as a box safety/linebacker-hybrid in the mold of Chung — a role he also played in Los Angeles. That said, his addition should allow the team to move another safety to the spot behind the recently re-signed McCourty:
The Patriots are now more flexible in their defensive backfield
The player in question is Terrence Brooks. Signed via free agency last offseason, the 28-year-old served as the Patriots’ fourth safety option and the primary backup behind Patrick Chung. Brooks had his moments in this role, but the team’s coaching staff may decide to give him more deep looks in Duron Harmon’s former role now that the depth at the strong safety position has been improved via the addition of Phillips. After all, he has experience in this role and seems well-suited to fill it again in 2020.
Phillips adds versatility and experience to New England’s secondary...
Phillips does not just help the Patriots improve their depth and possible move some pieces around in the defensive backfield, he also could have a big impact himself on the way the team plays defense. After all, he adds considerable versatility and experience in numerous spots to the safety position. As can be seen when looking at his alignment distribution from just the 2019 season alone, the Chargers used him all over the field (via Pro Football Focus):
Box safety: 122 snaps
Slot cornerback: 72 snaps
Free safety: 60 snaps
Defensive line: 18 snaps
Perimeter cornerback: 9 snaps
Where ever the Chargers needed Phillips, they put him — something Michael Peterson from Bolts From The Blue also said when talking to Pats Pulpit about him earlier this offseason.
“When the Bolts went 12-4 in 2018, Phillips was a big part of their defensive success,” Michael said about the newest Patriot. “Although he was named a First-Team All-Pro as a special teams player, he could have easily been in the running for a utility spot of the defensive side of the ball. With Derwin James and Jahleel Addae starting at the safety spots, Phillips was used as the team’s Nickel/Dime linebacker.”
“With the amount of Nickel and Dime that the Chargers ran, he was just as much of a starter as any of their traditional linebackers. He missed most of 2019 with a broken forearm but his presence was felt instantly when he came back alongside Derwin this past November.”
...and to the team’s the kicking game as well
While Phillips’ potential defensive impact cannot be understated, his special teams abilities need to be mentioned as well. After all, he was named to both the Pro Bowl and the first All-Pro team in 2018 for his contributions as a kick coverage players. Back then, Phillips led the team with 17 tackles in the kicking game while being prominently featured on all four kick coverage units as well as the field goal/extra point blocking squads.
He resumed those roles last season, even though field goal/extra point duties were cut from his responsibilities after he spent most of the year on temporary injured reserve due to the aforementioned broken forearm. Nevertheless, with Nate Ebner headed to the New York Giants, Phillips’ potential special teams contributions are an important factor to consider about his signing.
Phillips will factor into the compensatory draft picks formula for next year
As is the case with every free agency signing that did not result from a cut or non-exercised option clause in a contract, Phillips will factor into the compensatory draft picks formula for next year. New England is currently projected to receive four such selections, according to Over The Cap, after losing quarterback Tom Brady (third-rounder), linebackers Kyle Van Noy (fourth-rounder) and Jamie Collins (fourth-rounder) as well as defensive tackle Danny Shelton (sixth-rounder).
Phillips’ deal might end up costing the Patriots the sixth-round pick they are projected to receive for letting Shelton join the Detroit Lions.
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