The fourth-year safety registered an interception, a sack, a tackle for no gain, and another stop short of the goal line to prevent a touchdown. It was a vintage performance for the fourth-year man who has developed into a key member of the Patriots defense.
Nonetheless, his future is in question. Dugger has been speculated as a potential candidate to be moved ahead of the NFL trade deadline, but even if he stays put for now — which seems likely — there is no guarantee he will remain in New England beyond the 2023 season: the 27-year-old is in the final season of his rookie contract and headed for unrestricted free agency.
That said, Patriots head coach and de facto general manager Bill Belichick noted on Monday that keeping him around for the foreseeable future would be the ideal outcome.
“Yeah, of course. Sure. Absolutely,” he said during an appearance on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show.
When asked about Dugger’s contract status, though, Belichick did not offer any information.
“I’m not going to get into any contract situations,” he said.
Dugger arrived in New England as a second-round selection in the 2020 draft out of Lenoir-Rhyne. Despite his small-school status, he developed into a valuable and productive member of the team’s defense and special teams units.
By 2022, he had become one of the NFL’s best safeties and a difference-maker on one of the league’s best defenses. Following the subsequent offseason retirement of Devin McCourty, he took on an even bigger role and together with fellow DB Jabrill Peppers has helped fill the void left by the long-time team captain’s departure.
On Sunday against the Dolphins, Dugger was back at his playmaking best.
“Kyle had some explosive plays in the game — tackles for loss, an interception, good run after the interception, played well in the kicking game. Solid effort,” said Belichick.
In addition to his role as a leader within the secondary, Dugger also took over as the Patriots’ defensive on-field signal caller in the game. When linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley exited with a hamstring injury, he took over his job as the main communicator on that side of the ball.
“When Ja’Whaun went out it took over the signal-calling. He does a good job in that area,” Belichick said. “Kyle’s a smart kid. He helps us in a lot of different ways, versatile player in the running game, passing game, kicking game. He had a productive day yesterday.”