The New England Patriots did not have the most active free agency period to date, at least when compared to other teams around the league, but they still made their fair share of moves especially in the re-signings department. The latest of which came on Tuesday night: veteran safety Jabrill Peppers was retained on a reported two-year contract.
Even with the full details of the extension not yet known, keeping Peppers in the fold is a good move from Patriots perspective. How exactly does it impact the team, though? Let’s find out.
The Patriots keep a solid contributor in the fold. Peppers originally joined the Patriots last offseason on a one-year, $2 million contract — a deal reflective of his status as a player still recovering from a torn ACL suffered a few months earlier. Despite the injury, however, the former first-round draft pick developed into a solid contributor for the Patriots.
Peppers ended up appearing in all 17 of New England’s games and playing 398 of a possible 1,130 defensive snaps (35.2%). A box safety/linebacker hybrid, he proved to be a hard-hitting presence when on the field — registering 52 tackles and recovering a fumble — and a player capable of setting the tone for those around him.
Peppers was no world-beater in his first year in the Patriots system, or a consistent big-play threat like fellow safety Kyle Dugger, but he did his job well and had a positive impact. That impact extended beyond the defensive side of the ball: he also was a regular on special teams.
Appearing on both coverage and return teams, he played a total of 269 of 457 kicking game snaps (58.9%) — the seventh-highest number on the team. He finished the year with eight total kicking game tackles.
Re-signing Peppers helps in light of the Devin McCourty retirement. The Patriots’ defensive backfield suffered its biggest loss of the offseason before free agency week even began; long-time team captain Devin McCourty announced his retirement, leaving a big hole in the starting lineup.
Peppers, who is more of a box player than a deep center-fielder like McCourty, will not be replacing him one-for-one. However, keeping the 27-year-old in the fold gives New England another chess piece to use in the post-McCourty era; Peppers has shown a decent level of versatility throughout his career, even though his skillset is best suited for the role he primarily played during the 2022 season.
The secondary will stay intact outside of McCourty. While McCourty will not be back in 2023, the rest of the Patriots’ secondary will remain virtually intact compared to last year’s version. After re-signing Jonathan Jones and tendering fellow cornerback Myles Bryant earlier this week, locking up Peppers has addressed the final bit of uncertainty.
As a result, New England will now have eight of its top nine defensive backs under contract moving forward: safeties Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers, as well as cornerbacks Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Myles Bryant, Jack Jones and Marcus Jones
New England still has a need at the position. The way the safety group is currently constructed, there is no clear replacement for Devin McCourty anywhere to be found. Dugger, Phillips and Peppers are all better when aligning closer to the line of scrimmage, while backups Joshuah Bledsoe, Brenden Schooler or Brad Hawkins are unproven and/or special teamers.
Accordingly, bringing Peppers back to this group does not change the fact that the free safety position remains a need. How exactly New England will address it remains to be seen — the team could tap into free agency, a relatively shallow draft pool, or decide to work with the options under contract — but something has to happen.