Top-Rated Safety Called ‘Ideal Replacement’ For Devin McCourty

Getty Jessie Bates

Devin McCourty is destined to land in the New England Patriots‘ Hall of Fame when his career is done. However, at 35 years old, it might be time for the Patriots to consider moving on from the aging veteran.

McCourty, like several other Patriots veterans, is headed for free agency this offseason. With the Patriots facing an issue of a lack of speed, McCourty’s free safety position could be a spot where New England looks to upgrade their overall athleticism. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of depth at the position on the roster currently, so we could be looking at an acquisition or two.

There will be a few options–in addition to re-upping with McCourty–but none better than current Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III. Zack Cox of NESN wrote:

With Devin McCourty’s future uncertain, the Patriots could be looking for a new starting free safety for the first time in a decade. Bates was arguably the NFL’s best in that role in 2020, earning the highest PFF grade of any safety. He wasn’t the same dominant player this season — he had some rough games in coverage — but he’s shown terrific durability and versatility over his four-year career and will be just 25 years old when the 2022 campaign begins. If Cincinnati lets Bates hit the market and McCourty departs, he’d be an ideal replacement for the future Patriots Hall of Famer. Cost could be an issue, though, if Bates commands elite safety money.

Bates is PFF’s No. 1-Rated Free Safety

No safety in the NFL rated higher than Bates in 2021, per Pro Football Focus. His play on the back end of the Bengals’ defense has a lot to do with why the team is one win away from reaching the Super Bowl. Quarterback Joe Burrow and dynamic rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase deserve a ton of credit, but Bates has been huge.

The former second-round pick doesn’t turn 25 until February, and he has shown outstanding durability throughout his shot career. He’s missed just two games since coming into the NFL back in 2018 while grabbing 10 interceptions.

Bates has also hit the 100-tackle mark every season besides 2021 when he finished with 88 after playing in just 15 games. Can McCourty still play at a high level? Yes, he can, but it might be time for the Patriots to invest in a young player who projects as the same kind of back-line defensive presence McCourty has been–only 10 years younger.

Linebackers Should Be an Even Bigger Focus for the Patriots

While going younger at free safety is advisable for the Patriots, McCourty isn’t the free-agent veteran on the Patriots roster who most needs to move on.

That distinction belongs to inside linebacker and three-time Super Bowl champion Dont’a Hightower. For as good as Hightower has been throughout his career, he was a shell of himself in 2021.

The Patriots’ slow linebacker group is in desperate need of a speed and youth injection and no player in the unit better exemplifies the stiffness and slow legs more than Hightower.

There will be more than a few options for the Patriots to turn to, including Raekwon McMillan, whom they lost to a knee injury during the preseason. Even more, the Patriots would be wise to look to the draft to find their next potential stud at inside linebacker.

They have seemingly struck out in this regard over the past few seasons as the selections of guys like Anfernee Jennings and Caash Maluia haven’t turned into fruitful acquisitions. In any case, New England has to find a way to get quicker over the middle portion of the second half of their defense.

Without this element, it won’t matter what they do with McCourty, they will still have issues covering quick slot receivers and tight ends.

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