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Patriots 2023 free agency profile: Devin McCourty returning would be good news for New England

The veteran safety will enter unrestricted free agency in mid-March.

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Finishing the 2022 season with an 8-9 record and out of the playoffs, the New England Patriots have plenty of work to do to return to postseason contention. One big part of this process will be taking care of their own class of free agents.

Quite a few players are headed for the open market, with a total of 19 players left that were with New England last year in need of a new contract. Among them is safety Devin McCourty, whose contract is set to void on March 15 to make him an unrestricted free agent.

Hard facts

Name: Devin McCourty

Position: Safety

Jersey number: 32

Opening day age: 36

Size: 5-foot-11, 195 pounds

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent (Contract voids on March 15)


What is his experience? One year after his twin brother, fellow defensive back Jason McCourty, entered the NFL Draft, Devin did the same. The Rutgers product was selected in the first-round in 2010, with the Patriots picking him in the 27th spot — an investment that paid major dividends through the years. McCourty already carved out a starting cornerback role as a rookie, finishing his first season as a pro with seven interceptions and two forced fumbles. Unfortunately, he was unable to keep up this pace in Year 2.

While he performed well on special teams and was voted a team captain for the first time in his career, he was inconsistent as the Patriots’ CB1. In 2012, the team therefore eventually decided to move the Rutgers product from perimeter cornerback to free safety following the trade acquisition of Aqib Talib. McCourty changing positions proved to be a stroke of genius: his range allowed him to successfully patrol the deep parts of the field, making life easier for the cornerback group while simultaneously upgrading the safety depth chart.

Ever since 2012, McCourty has been a fixture as the Patriots’ primary deep safety. Playing this role he helped the team win three Super Bowls while appearing in a combined 229 regular season and playoff games — missing just five contests over the course of his illustrious career. A three-time All-Pro selection and two-time Pro Bowler, McCourty has been the heart and soul of the Patriots’ secondary for over a decade, and one of the NFL’s best and most consistent safeties year-in and year-out.

What did his 2022 season look like? Coming off another solid season as a captain and starting member in the team’s secondary, McCourty was headed for the unknown: the contract extension he had signed in 2020 was set to void at the first day of the new league year, meaning that he might have been headed for free agency. However, he never made it that far. The Patriots and McCourty reached an agreement on a one-year extension at a total value of $9 million; the deal included four more void years to spread out its signing bonus.

With his contract situation taken care of before the start of free agency and McCourty staying put another year, the stage was set for yet another quality season. Despite getting up there in age, McCourty was again among the league’s better safeties in 2022 and a cornerstone of the New England defense. As such, he started all 17 of the team’s games and hardly left the field. In fact, McCourty playing 1,097 of a possible 1,130 defensive snaps (97.1%) was the highest such number on the team for a fourth year in a row.

The 13-year veteran made the most of his time on the field. For one, McCourty was integral to the Patriots’ defensive operation due to his still-elite athleticism combined with top-notch anticipation and field vision, experience, and communication skills both on and off the field. In addition, he once again filled various roles in the New England secondary: McCourty aligned as a classic deep safety most of the time, but he also was moved into the box, the slot, and even had a handful of snaps split out wide in a cornerback alignment.

Just like in years past, McCourty was a difference-maker for the Patriots. While he did allow opposing quarterbacks to complete 12 of 21 passes thrown his way for 231 yards and three touchdowns, per Pro Football Focus, he also was tied for the team-lead with four interceptions. McCourty also recovered one fumble, making him the most productive turnover-creator on the New England defense. He also registered 71 total tackles, with 28 of them coming in the running game and the other 43 against the pass.

McCourty’s role on the defensive side of the ball looked a lot like it had in previous years. The same cannot be said for his kicking game contributions: while he was a core special teamer early on in his career, 2022 marked a fourth straight season of declining opportunities in the game’s third phase. In total, McCourty played just nine snaps snaps on special teams — the lowest such number of his career. He did not see any action in the kicking game in 13 of the Patriots’ 17 games.

New England no longer using him as an every-down player does not change McCourty’s status as one of the team’s most important players both on and off the field. That was particularly true with the Patriots undergoing a transformation process of sorts on defense: gone are former starters such as Dont’a Hightower, Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, with several young players brought in to replace them. McCourty was integral in helping to get them up to speed in 2022, and to provide a setup to further help their growth.

Free agency preview

What is his contract history? McCourty joined the Patriots on a five-year rookie deal — the rookie wage scale had not been introduced in 2010 — worth $10 million. When the contract expired, he entered free agency but ultimately returned to a New England with a new five-year, $47.5 million pact in hand. In 2020, before heading into the final season of that deal, he signed a two-year, $23 million extension, followed by a one-year, $9 million contract last year. In total, Over the Cap estimates McCourty’s career earnings at $92.6 million.

Which teams might be in the running? Despite his age, several teams should have an interest in adding a player of McCourty’s caliber if he makes it to the open market. Among those are the Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars. That said, any of them actually signing the 35-year-old seems like an unrealistic outcome.

Why should he be expected back? McCourty has been the heart and soul of the Patriots defensive backfield ever since he moved from cornerback to safety ahead of the 2012 season. He is a key communicator in the secondary, a tone-setter both on and off the field, and remains a high-quality player and consistent playmaker despite his 36th birthday just five months away. Add the fact that the team lacks a true deep-field defender behind him, and re-signing McCourty should become a priority for New England.

Why should he be expected to leave? The main reason why McCourty might not want to come back in 2023 would be his retirement. As of right now, he has not made a decision one way or the other. But even if he does continue his career, there is a theoretical scenario where the team simply decides to let his contract void and hand the keys to the safety position to Kyle Dugger and company.

What is his projected free agency outcome? If McCourty does decide to continue his career, it seems highly unlikely he would do so in a uniform that is not the Patriots’. In that case, New England would likely find a way to re-sign him ahead of March 15 at 4 p.m. ET: at that point, with the start of the new league year, his current contract would void to create a dead money number of $9.7 million — the totality of his remaining signing bonuses originally spread out over the four remaining void years on his deal.

The team and its long-time captain signing a contract similar to his 2022 extension would therefore make sense. Of course, they could agree to a slightly different structure: whereas last year’s one-year, $9 million pact included a significant signing bonus ($6.75 million) and relatively low salary ($1.25 million), this year’s might do the opposite to take advantage of the Patriots having plenty of cap space available this offseason; an increased salary and lower signing bonus spread out over several void years would lessen McCourty’s impact on the team in 2024 and beyond.

Regardless of what a potential extension will look like, it appears there are only two potential outcomes: either McCourty re-signs with the Patriots, or he heads off into a well-earned retirement. Neither would come as a surprise at this point in time.


Do you want the Patriots to re-sign Devin McCourty?

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