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Patriots 2022 offseason preview: Safety position could lose its long-time leader this year

Related: Patriots offseason preview: J.C. Jackson’s status will determine the future at cornerback

New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

With Super Bowl LVI in the rear-view mirror, the entire NFL is now on to the offseason. The New England Patriots have been in that position for quite some time now: their 2021 season already came to an end in early January, following a wild card playoff loss in Buffalo.

The offseason projects to be an interesting one for the Patriots. The team did go 10-7 in the regular season and returned to the playoffs, but it does face plenty of questions after its late-season collapse and with numerous starters in all three phases headed towards free agency. With that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time one position at a time.

Today, we continue with the the safety spot.

Joshuah Bledsoe

Age: 23

Experience: 1

Contract status: Under contract through the 2024 season. Bledsoe has a salary cap hit of $755,087 in 2022.

2021 review: Bledsoe joined the Patriots as a sixth-round selection in the 2021 draft, but has yet to appear in an NFL game. The Missouri product started the season on the non-football injury list after undergoing surgery to repair a broken wrist during the pre-draft process. He did get activated in December, but failed to make it onto the game-day squad.

Bledsoe eventually popped up on the injury report due to a calf issue later that same month, and was ultimately sent to injured reserve. With New England’s season coming to an end early in the playoffs, the rookie had to end it on the sidelines.

2022 preview: Bledsoe’s outlook for the 2022 season will likely depend on the rest of the safety group. But even if veteran Devin McCourty is not retained — he reportedly plans to continue his career but will enter free agency next month — the second-year defender should be in a position to make the team: his versatility to play both safety and cornerback might make him a valuable depth option.

Cody Davis

Age: 32

Experience: 9

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Davis has a salary cap hit of $2.3 million in 2022.

2021 review: Set to enter free agency last March, Davis returned to the Patriots on a two-year, $4.3 million contract. He therefore continued to play an important role in the kicking game, ranking second on the team with 363 special teams snaps. He also registered a team-high 15 tackles in the game’s third phase.

While he was productive, not all went well for Davis. The punting unit, which has him employed as a personal protector responsible for setting the protections, surrendered a league-high three blocks.

2022 preview: Despite having played a valuable role on special teams ever since his arrival in New England in 2020, Davis is no lock to stay with the team this year. Not only could the Patriots create net cap savings of over $1 million by releasing the soon-to-be 33-year-old, they also might be looking to rebuild their special teams unit after a bad 2021 season.

Of course, his status might be closely tied to two other special teamers: Matthew Slater and Brandon King are both headed for unrestricted free agency.

Kyle Dugger

Age: 25

Experience: 2

Contract status: Under contract through the 2023 season. Dugger has a salary cap hit of $2.27 million in 2022.

2021 review: Coming off an encouraging rookie season, Dugger made a noticeable jump in Year 2 to establish himself as a starting member in New England’s nickel- and dime-based defense. Playing primarily as a box safety but also aligning in other spots in the secondary at times, he appeared in 16 of 18 possible games and was on the field for 68.6 percent of defensive snaps.

Dugger had a productive season. The second-year man was tied for first on the team in fumble recoveries (1) and led the club in interception return yardage (100); he also ranked second in interceptions (4) and third in tackles (96).

2022 preview: While it remains to be seen where Dugger will line up in 2022 — Devin McCourty’s future will help determine that — his outlook projects favorably. Entering his third season in the league, his role in the Patriots defense is only expected to grow. Together with Adrian Phillips, he is the future at the position.

Devin McCourty

Age: 34

Experience: 12

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 16.

2021 review: The 2021 season was mostly business as usual for Devin McCourty. While one of his few negatives plays — a bad angle against the Houston Texans in Week 5 — generated plenty of discussion about his quality at age 34, he had another quality campaign as the leader of New England’s secondary.

In that role, the team captain appeared in all 18 games and registered three interceptions. Playing primarily as a deep safety but also aligning closer to the box on occasion, McCourty was once again a valuable member of the Patriots defense. On top of his responsibilities as a defensive back, he also called the on-field plays for the unit despite linebacker Dont’a Hightower returning from his Covid-19 opt-out.

2022 preview: The Patriots could lose their longest-tenured defender this offseason. Not only is he a candidate to retire — even though he reportedly plans to continue his career — he also is headed for unrestricted free agency: the remaining three years left on McCourty’s contract will void if he remains unsigned on March 16 at 4 p.m. ET.

Both sides will likely be open to continuing working together, but nothing is set in stone just yet. That said, McCourty returning on a cost-effective short-term deal seems like the best outcome for both himself and the team.

Adrian Phillips

Age: 29

Experience: 8

Contract status: Under contract through the 2024 season. Phillips has a salary cap hit of $3.19 million in 2022.

2021 review: His first season with the Patriots was a successful one already, but Phillips was able to make the famous second-year jump in 2021: he was one of the better strong safeties in football throughout the season, and played a key role in New England fielding one of the NFL’s top defenses.

Appearing in all 18 games, the former Charger ranked second on the team in both tackles (98) and interceptions (4); he furthermore forced a fumble and scored a touchdown on a pick-six. Phillips also lined up all over the formation depending on the matchups the Patriots wanted to create.

2022 preview: Phillips was originally scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency in March, but the Patriots took care of him before the 2021 season was even over. The team and the 29-year-old agreed on a three-year contract extension worth $12.8 million. Accordingly, Phillips will continue playing a starting role in the New England secondary for the foreseeable future.