With free agency basically starting on Monday with the opening of the so-called legal tampering period, the NFL offseason is going to heat up quite a bit. This past week already was a sign of things to come, though, with several big moves being made all over the league.
The New England Patriots were part of some of them, and they naturally grabbed our attention these last few days. For all else we might have missed as a result, and other notes and thoughts on the team and the league, here are our Sunday Patriots Notes.
Remembering Devin McCourty’s most memorable moments. Patriots legend Devin McCourty announced his retirement from the NFL on Friday, stepping away after an impressive 13-year career that saw him help the organization win three Super Bowls. McCourty’s importance to the second-era dynasty is well-documented, and a lot has been and still will be said about what the move means in the grand scheme of things.
For now, however, let’s focus on his contributions. The Pats Pulpit staff got together to share some of its favorite McCourty memories.
Bernd Buchmasser: McCourty’s Patriots career is filled with multiple big moments worthy of recognition, but one that stands out came the 2013 season. Having moved to safety the previous year, he had fully established himself as the leader of the team’s secondary at that point and a player capable of making an impact that goes beyond the stat-sheet.
The perfect example of that came in Week 8 against the Miami Dolphins. McCourty came over from the safety spot to help defend a deep pass, undercut the throw, and realizing his momentum would carry him out of bounds decided to forgo the interception to instead pitch the ball back into the field of play. This allowed teammate Marquice Cole to register the takeaway — one that, like so many, would not have been possible without McCourty present.
Oliver Thomas: When thinking back on Devin McCourty’s career, postgame from Super Bowl LIII is a memory that has stayed with me. There he was at one podium inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium and his twin brother, a season removed from going 0-16, was at another. They were able to share a secondary in February as NFL veterans and past and present captains. And then, they were able to chirp back and forth at each other over the speakers after it.
Alec Shane: If there’s one play for me that sums up McCourty’s career, it’s the 2012 Thanksgiving Night game between the Patriots and Jets. The last of the 21 points the Patriots scored in under a minute was a Travis McKnight kickoff fumble that fell right into Julian Edelman’s hands for an easy touchdown return. That fumble was caused by an absolutely textbook Devin McCourty hit on McKnight to jar the ball loose. We all remember a bunch of other things from that game because of how absurd and anomalous they all were, but that hit was just DMac doing DMac things.
A tough-as-nails, every down, impact player that never needed, wanted, or received the credit for this Dynasty, but had a hand in almost every big moment of this last decade-plus.
Matthew Rewinski: Ever since his position change that would culminate in a first-ballot Hall of Very Good career, Devin carried the free safety’s curse of doing most of his damage off-camera. So anytime you saw him come down into the box or pick someone up in man coverage, that’d make you sit up on your stool like, “All right, let’s get dangerous”.
2015 against the Dolphins in Week 8, the Pats were undefeated and seemed even more intent than usual on posterizing the rest of the league (you remember why), and DMac finally got the chance to lay the lumber and sacked QB Ryan Tannehill, as did several other Pats that night. The man is as complete a football player as they come, despite being my height and, let’s just say I’d be surprised if that listed 195 pounds is what actually shows up on the scale before breakfast.
Pat Lane: There are so many great memories of Devin McCourty’s time in New England. Of course, one of my favorites is him celebrating with Jason after winning the AFC Championship and then the Super Bowl in 2018, but the one that I think defines who he was as a player was the 2013 season.
McCourty was struggling at corner in 2012, and moved to safety mid season because of injury. In 2013, his first full season as a safety, he would end up being a second-team All-Pro selection. Not many players drafted so high, who had immediate success, would be willing to make a switch like that to help the team, never mind play so well in his first season there. McCourty was the ultimate team player, and the face of the defense in the second dynasty.
SlotMachinePlayer: Rookie year, he lined up one on one with Megatron. That’s a tough ask for a veteran player let alone a guy playing his fifth game. He ended the day with seven tackles, two pass deflections and two picks for 73 yards (the second and third of his career). That’s when I knew he was something special.
New England knows the value of its RFA tenders now. Most of the eyes the next few days will be on the unrestricted free agents, but the Patriots also have two players falling in a different category: cornerback Myles Bryant and offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste are both restricted, meaning they will only hit the open market if not tendered first.
This gives the team an opportunity to retain them for another year on what might be below-market deals. As the NFL announced this week, after all, the values for the possible tender options look as follows:
- First round: $6.0 million
- Second round: $4.3 million
- Original round: $2.7 million
- Right of first refusal: $2.6 million
If the Patriots use one of those tenders on Bryant and/or Cajuste, another team would have the option to sign them to an offer sheet. New England would then have five days to match, or receive the appropriate compensation in return.
So, will the Patriots use those tenders? It seems unlikely they will do so on Cajuste, who struggled with injuries through his four years with the team. Bryant, meanwhile, might be a different story especially with fellow defensive back Devin McCourty now retired.
The Patriots’ late-round draft picks are moving up. The Patriots’ late-round draft capital — four selections in the sixth round — moved up one slot this week. The Houston Texans, after all, had to forfeit their own fifth-round pick because of a salary cap violation. As a consequence, New England now picks 184th, 187th, 192nd and 210th overall in Round 6.
New England owns the 11th-most draft capital. Speaking of the draft, the Patriots are in a comfortable position even beyond their first-round pick at No. 14 overall. They have 10 total selections and are above-average from a value perspective.
The following graphic shared by Joseph Hefner shows that the team is ranked 11th in a league-wide comparison of five different value charts (including our own Rich Hill’s):
Of course, capital alone does not produce good drafts. That said, the Patriots are in a good spot to make some trades and therefore manipulate the board to their liking.
Lamar Jackson follows in Matt Cassel’s footsteps. The Baltimore Ravens decided to place the franchise tag on pending free agent quarterback Lamar Jackson last week, keeping him from the open market despite reportedly not meeting eye-to-eye in contract negotiations. What stood out, however, was that the organization went for the non-exclusive tag — a rarity that is inviting clubs to go after the former league MVP.
How rare is the non-exclusive label for QBs? Through the introduction of the NFL salary cap and free agency in the early 1990s only five passers have gotten it: Steve Young (San Francisco 49ers, 1993), Jim Harbaugh (Indianapolis Colts, 1996), Drew Brees (San Diego Chargers, 2005), Matt Cassel (Patriots, 2009) and Kirk Cousins (Washington Commanders, 2016).
Cassel’s case is an interesting one not just because he is a former Patriot. He also was traded after receiving the tag, being sent to Kansas City alongside linebacker Mike Vrabel in return for a second-round draft selection. That selection, by the way, would eventually turn into safety Patrick Chung.
Miami is committed to Tua Tagovailoa for the immediate future. Jackson was not the only quarterback in the news this week. Aaron Rodgers, who might get traded from Green Bay to New York, was as well, as was the Miami Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa.
The franchise, after all decided to exercise the fifth-year option in Tagovailoa’s rookie deal, keeping him around through at least the 2024 season. The fifth overall selection in the 2020 draft, he is coming off the best season of his career — throwing for 3,548 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
He will earn a fully-guaranteed $23.2 million under the fifth-year option.
Carolina makes a big swing by trading up to No. 1 overall. The quarterback-needy Carolina Panthers were aggressive this week, trading two first-round picks (2023, 2024) and two second-rounders (2023, 2025) as well as wide receiver D.J. Moore to the Chicago Bears for the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. It is not hard to see why: they need a QB badly.
So, who will they pick? That remains to be seen, but it appears the choice will come down to either Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. Stroud is the betting favorite at the moment, per DraftKings Sportsbook.