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Patriots 2021 free agency profile: Terrence Brooks faces an uncertain future in New England

Related: Patriots free agency profile: CB Justin Bethel

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New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Coming off a disappointing 2020 campaign, the New England Patriots are headed into a pivotal offseason: they need to rebuild a roster that went just 7-9 last year and is in need of some major upgrades across the board. Part of those could be bringing back the players scheduled to enter free agency — and there are quite a few of them.

All in all, 26 players that were with New England in one way last season are in need of a new contract. Among them is safety Terrence Brooks, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 17.

Hard facts

Name: Terrence Brooks

Position: Safety

Jersey number: 25

Opening day age: 29

Size: 5-foot-11, 205 pounds

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Experience

What is his experience? Brooks arrived in the NFL as a third-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2014: the team invested the 79th overall selection in the Florida State product, and he went on to start his tenure with the club as a depth option free safety and regular special teamer. Brooks appeared in 23 games in this role over his first two seasons in the league— ending his rookie year on injured reserve due to a knee injury — before Baltimore opted to release him during 2016’s roster cutdowns.

Brooks never hit the open market following his release, though, as the Philadelphia Eagles claimed him off the waiver wire. He went on to appear in 11 games for the team, with almost all of his playing time coming in the kicking game as a four-coverage player. The following summer, however, he had to change teams again when the Eagles traded him to the New York Jets in return for cornerback Dexter McDougle. The move did prove to be a good one for Brooks, as he carved out a role as a core special teams presence in New York.

He went on to appear in 31 of a possible 32 games over the following two seasons, and also led the Jets in kicking game snaps in 2018. Furthermore, he recovered one fumble and registered two interceptions as a rotational safety (both in 2017). Despite his success, however, the team decided not to exercise the option clause in his contract heading into 2019 — making him an unrestricted free agent and allowing him to join the Patriots.

What did his 2020 season look like? Brooks served as New England’s fourth safety in 2019, and appeared in 16 of a possibly 17 game in his first season with the Patriots. But even though he appeared to be in a prime position for a bigger role in 2020 following the offseason departures of Patrick Chung (opt-out) and Duron Harmon (trade), it did not materialize: the veteran defender again spent most of the season as the number four on the team’s safety depth chart.

In this role, Brooks saw the field in 14 games and played 254 of a possible 1,017 defensive snaps (25.0%). For comparison, the playing time shares of fellow safeties Devin McCourty (94.5%), Adrian Phillips (73.4%) and Kyle Dugger (50.9%) all exceeded this number — despite Phillips and Dugger not bringing the same level of experience to the table as Brooks. He was still used only rotationally on both defense and in the kicking game, where he was used on 137 of a possible 397 snaps (34.5%).

Defensively, Brooks played a versatile role par the course for New England’s defensive backs. While he saw most of his action aligned closer to the box as a traditional strong safety, he also was moved deep on occasion and even split out to a cornerback alignment from time to time. All in all, though, his usage was mostly situation-dependent. The fact that he saw only eight passes thrown his way in coverage the entire year — giving up seven catches for 93 yards — also reflects this.

In the kicking game, meanwhile, Brooks saw time on five different units. He was regularly used on kickoff and punt coverage, and to a lesser degree also employed punt return squad as well as as a flanker on field goal and extra point blocking units. In the season finale, he also played one snap on the kickoff return team. He registered three total tackles during the season, tied for seventh most on the roster.

Free agency preview

What is his contract history? Upon entering the NFL in 2013, Brooks signed a four-year, $2.9 million rookie pact with the Ravens. That deal remained intact even after he changed teams twice: the Eagles took on his contract when they claimed him off waivers in 2016, and passed it on to the Jets one year later. In 2018, Brooks signed a two-year, $4 million extension, but played one season under it before New York declined the team option. In New England, meanwhile, he agreed to a two-year, $3.3 million deal. All in all, Brooks’ contractual career earnings are estimated at around $8.2 million by Over The Cap.

Which teams might be in the running? While Brooks never exceeded number four status on the Patriots’ safety depth chart, there are plenty of teams that might be interested in acquiring his services this spring. The Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans and Las Vegas Raiders are all listed as clubs in need of potential help at the safety position by Pro Football Focus. Furthermore, his special teams experience might make him a potential target for teams that struggled in the game’s third phase in 2020 like the Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings.

Why should he be expected back? Brooks may not have played a major role within the Patriots’ secondary the last two years, but he will be a comparatively cost-effective depth option that brings experience and versatility on both defense and special teams to the table. With only Kyle Dugger and an aging Patrick Chung under contract at the safety spot beyond 2021, bringing him back for two or three more years might be a move worth making from New England’s perspective.

Why should he be expected to leave? In two seasons with the Patriots, Brooks has not been able to carve out a consistent role in the defensive backfield and also saw his special teams snaps decrease from 2019 to 2020. With other players at the position having shown more upside, and with versatile youngsters such as Myles Bryant and Joejuan Williams also in the fold, New England might be prompted to invest its resources elsewhere instead of bringing the soon-to-be 29-year-old back.

What is his projected free agency outcome? While his presence might be deemed valuable from the Patriots’ point of view, it would not be a surprise if they opted to part ways with Brooks this spring. His production on defense and special teams can likely be replaced with cheaper personnel, after all. Unless the market develops rather slowly and he could be retrained on a near-minimum contract, it would therefore not be a surprise if Brooks wore another uniform in 2021.