The first wave of the NFL’s free agency is slowly starting to fade away, but there has still been plenty of movement around the league on Thursday. The New England Patriots, for example, made their biggest signing of the new league year so far and also took another step to possibly lock up one of their best offensive players. Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, let’s clean out the notebook from Day Two of the NFL’s 2020 league year.
Details of the Duron Harmon trade emerge
When the Patriots announced that they had traded safety Duron Harmon to the Detroit Lions, no terms of the deal were initially disclosed. On Thursday, however, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported further details of the transaction: New England sent not just Harmon to Detroit, but also a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft (No. 235) alongside him. The Lions, meanwhile, gave the Patriots a fifth-round selection (No. 172) in return.
From the perspective of Harmon’s old team, the trade therefore essentially resulted in a 63-spot jump on the third day of the draft in combination with $3.89 million in salary cap savings. That said, it also created a hole in the Patriots’ defensive backfield considering that the 29-year-old served as the team’s number three safety since arriving in New England back in 2013 — a hole that was quickly filled again, though.
Before getting to the player who filled Harmon’s de facto roster spot, please make sure to read our additional coverage of his trade to Detroit:
New England makes its first splash signing of free agency
The Patriots’ safety depth was weakened by the Harmon trade, but it did not take long for the team to address it again: on Thursday afternoon, news broke that New England had signed veteran safety Adrian Phillips to a two-year contract. Phillips, who spent the first six years with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, is coming off an injury-shortened season — he missed nine games on short-term injured reserve after breaking his forearm — but is a proven commodity as a versatile defender
The 27-year-old will likely join Patrick Chung as the Patriots’ top option at strong safety, which in turn would allow the team to move Terrence Brooks over to free safety to serve the spot alongside Devin McCourty that was previously filled by Duron Harmon. While it remains to be seen which kind of impact Phillips will really have on New England’s secondary, the team did add an intriguing piece to its defensive puzzle — one that might also make an impact in the kicking game from Day One.
For more on the Patriots’ signing of Adrian Phillips, please check out our coverage from Thursday:
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Nate Ebner joins Joe Judge in New York
The addition of Phillips becomes especially noteworthy considering that the Patriots had lost one of their core special teamers just a few hours earlier: Nate Ebner, who spent the first seven seasons of his career in New England and saw prominent playing time on all four kick coverage units, has reportedly signed a one-year deal with the New York Giants in free agency — a move that reunites him with his former position coach, Joe Judge.
Ebner’s departure weakens the Patriots’ kicking game operation in Year One after Judge, but the team appears to be well-equipped to handle the loss. Not only was Phillips added to the equation, New England also returns Matthew Slater (re-signed on a two-year contract) and Justin Bethel, while getting Brandon King back from a year-long stint on injured reserve.
For more on Nate Ebner’s departure, please check out our coverage from Thursday:
The next chapter in the Joe Thuney saga has begun
A total of 15 players received the franchise or transition tags by their respective teams this year, and the first to sign it is Patriots guard Joe Thuney: the 27-year-old did so on Thursday, meaning that he is under contract for at least the 2020 season now.
Ideally, however, New England will find a way to soften his salary cap impact: he currently hits the team’s books with a fully guaranteed salary of $14.78 million, after all, but there are options for the Patriots to lower this number. For one, they could simply reach an extension that would keep him in the fold long-term and also spread out his salary cap hits and contractual guarantees better. Of course, New England also could opt to trade him now that the tender sheet has been signed. Either way, the situation remains fluid.
For more on Joe Thuney signing his franchise tender sheet, please check out our coverage from Thursday:
The Patriots express interest in two familiar players
With the second wave of free agency slowly beginning, New England is in the process of assessing the market to potentially add more depth to the team. One option on the team’s radar appears to be former Denver Broncos defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, who reportedly had discussions with the Patriots. Wolfe has a history with the organization, of course, after facing off against it seven times over his career and helping the Broncos beat the Patriots in the 2015 AFC Championship Game.
Another player who still is in touch with the Patriots is wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. The former first-round draft pick, who spent the last three seasons in New England, has generated some interest early in free agency but yet to sign a deal. It remains to be seen whether or not he returns to his old stomping grounds after what was a disappointing 2019 campaign that saw him slide down the depth chart after a strong start.
For more on the Patriots’ reported interest in Derek Wolfe, please check out our coverage from Thursday:
Two superstars move on from their old teams
While fewer big-name deals happen the deeper we go into free agency, two superstar players still moved on from their previous teams on Thursday:
The Los Angeles Rams released Todd Gurley: Thursday was a critical day for star running back Todd Gurley, as $10.5 million of his contract were set to become guaranteed. However, the team opted to pull the plug on the former first-round draft pick and after failing to find a trade partner out-right released him. The move creates $5.5 million in salary cap space for the Rams, but also a dead cap charge of $20.15 million spread out over the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
The Detroit Lions traded Darius Slay to the Philadelphia Eagles: Slay was the Lions’ best defensive back, but they nevertheless decided to move on from him in return for third- and fifth-round selections in this year’s draft. The writing was on the wall ever since Detroit signed Desmond Trufant earlier in free agency, while the Eagles bolster a secondary that was among the weakest in football last season.