Devin McCourty will not be going anywhere. As the 34-year-old announced via social media on Sunday, he will stay put and return to the New England Patriots for a 13th season rather than test free agency.
Reportedly signing a one-year, $9 million contract, McCourty will avoid free agency and stay with the team that drafted him in 2010. What does the three-time Super Bowl champion returning mean for the club, though? Let’s find out.
New England’s safety trio stays intact
The Patriots made sure to keep their safety group intact ever since the calendar turned to 2022. Not only have they now locked up McCourty for another year, they also signed pending free agent Adrian Phillips to a three-year extension back in January.
As a result, one of the best safety trios in football will keep playing together. McCourty, Phillips and third-year man Kyle Dugger are as good a position group as any on New England’s roster — and one of the best in all of football. The backbone of the team’s defense, all three have proven themselves as versatile playmakers capable of performing at a consistently high level.
While Phillips and Dugger are longer-term investments, McCourty is still the leader of the group and New England’s defense as a whole. Speaking of which...
The Patriots keep one of their leaders
Four of New England’s five team captains of the 2021 season were headed for unrestricted free agency: McCourty, running back James White, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and special teamer Matthew Slater. The lone captain set to stay with the team was center David Andrews, who will now be joined by McCourty as well.
With the team still in the process of transitioning from the Tom Brady to the Mac Jones era, having a stable set of proven leaders is certainly a smart choice. Jones will join them as a captain sooner rather than later, but for now he and the team know that at least two of the most vocal and respected members of the club are staying for another year.
This softens the blow of a possible J.C. Jackson departure
Despite how its 2021 season ended, the Patriots’ secondary was one of the best in the NFL last year. That said, it might be losing its best player soon: Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson is an unrestricted free agent as well, and he appears to be headed elsewhere after not receiving the franchise tag last week.
With Jackson possibly departing and the cornerback group as a whole facing plenty of turnover, keeping the elder statesman in the secondary is a good move. Not only is McCourty a savvy veteran and tone-setter both on and off the field, he also is still very good at what he does: his combination of smarts, experience and athleticism make him one of the better deep safeties in football even at age 34.
Keeping a player of this quality to help over the top is a stabilizing power regardless of who lines up at the cornerback spots. Ideally, J.C. Jackson would be part of that group, but don’t count on that happening.
McCourty avoids the void
The two-year, $23 million extension McCourty signed with the Patriots in 2020 included three void years set to kick in at the start of the 2022 league year. This meant that he would have become a free agent had he not been extended by March 16 4 p.m. ET. — a move that also would have had an impact on New England’s salary cap: his entire remaining signing bonus proration of $6.45 million would have hit the team’s books this year.
With McCourty re-signed, however, his bonus will remain spread out over the three void years and not come due this year in its entirety. Instead of counting $6.45 million against the cap, only $2.15 million of it will be on the 2022 payroll.
Obviously, though, the impact of McCourty’s new one-year deal will be added to that number. While it remains to be seen what it will ultimately be, McCourty’s cap impact will be no smaller than $5.9 million, according to salary cap expert Miguel Benzan.
1 down, 14 to go
Not counting linebacker Harvey Langi, who was already re-signed in January, the Patriots originally had 15 players set to enter unrestricted free agency this week. McCourty has now become the first of those to receive a new contract, leaving 14 unaccounted for with the start of the legal tampering period just hours away.
For more on the state of New England’s free agency, please make sure to bookmark our up-to-date Patriots Free Agency Tracker.