Patrick Chung’s NFL future is in jeopardy after his recent drug charge indictment. While his legal issues get settled, the Patriots need to find a replacement at safety. 5-time Pro -Bowler Eric Berry could be a stellar option waiting in the wings.
The 30-year-old was released by the Chiefs back in March after injuries starting piling up. A ruptured Achilles in 2017 and a persistent heel injury in 2018 limited the safety to just three regular-season games over that span.
The extra time off from practice may have paved the way for a full recovery. This is the same player that returned from Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 to win the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Resilience is not the question here.
The production when healthy is not really one either. He has accumulated 448 tackles, 14 interceptions (with five returned for scores) and 29 tackles for loss in his career. This earned the former first-round pick three All-Pro honors in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
He would also complement well with the Patriots’ Devin McCourty. At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, McCourty is more of a backend speedster that can cover ground on deep passes. This has resulted in 21 interceptions over his career. Meanwhile, Berry is more of a ball-hawk that can creep up towards the line of scrimmage. At 6-foot, 212 pounds, he can fill Chung’s role as an enforcer in the secondary.
Berry had previously been connected with several other NFL teams for this role as a “box safety.” Berry had seen looks from the Browns at one point, who saw him as a replacement for Jabrill Peppers (traded to the Giants for Odell Beckham, Jr.). Berry and Peppers come from a similar mold of hyper-athletic nickel cornerback/safety/linebacker hybrids.
Let’s look at the depth chart and see if signing Berry is worth it for New England.
Patriots Secondary Depth Chart for 2019
CB: Stephen Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, Obi Melifonwu
FS: Devin McCourty, Nate Ebner, Duke Dawson
SS: Duron Harmon, Terrance Brooks, (Patrick Chung)
CB: Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen
Between Gilmore and Jason McCourty, as well as Jones and Melifonwu, there’s enough physicality and athleticism on the outside of the secondary. If New England decides to go with Harmon as the starter at strong (box) safety in place of Chung, they are getting a decent coverage guy.
The 28-year-old grabbed four interceptions last season to go with 38 stops in backup duty. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he’s slightly taller than Berry but also a touch smaller. Despite this, extrapolated over a full season, his stats would be pretty close to Chung’s from 2018.
He also is two years younger than Berry. He is set to earn $2.5 million in the third year of his 4-year, $17 million contract. While Berry is due for a big paycut from his $8.9 million salary in 2018, it’s hard to imagine he would be signed for less than Harmon.
With over $15 million in cap space for 2019 remaining, the risk is worth the reward. Should Berry get injured again or is not 100 percent, the Patriots will have a capable option in Harmon as more of a coverage safety. However, should Berry return to his Pro Bowl form, the Patriots will have upgraded at a position for a very cheap price.