Patriots Named Potential Landing Spot for All-Pro Safety

Bill Belichick Patriots

Getty The Patriots could target the top safety on the market.

The New England Patriots could target the top safety on the free agency market.

The Patriots like to rely heavily on multiple safeties in their defensive looks. Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and Jalen Mills all played at least two-thirds of the defensive snaps in 2021. However, the 34-year-old McCourty will be a free agent this offseason.

With McCourty’s future in New England unclear, that could leave a void in the defensive backfield. According to Pro Football Network’s Dallas Robinson, Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro free safety Jessie Bates is a possible option.

Why Patriots Could Target Bates

“While the Colts may not dip their toe in the free-agent waters very often, you can’t say the same for the Patriots,” says Robinson. “Even before their 2021 spending spree, New England was known for targeted signings, especially in the secondary. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Stephon Gilmore were two of their most notable additions in recent years, but the Patriots could be staring at an opening at safety this offseason.

Devin McCourty is scheduled to hit the open market in March. While it seems incredibly unlikely that he’ll sign with another team, there is a real chance that he’ll retire. McCourty has flirted with hanging up his cleats in each of the last three offseasons. At 34 years old and on an expiring contract, could he call it quits?

McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, and Jalen Mills (who also plays CB) have each played at least two-thirds of New England’s defensive snaps this year. For a team that loves to deploy multiple-safety looks, the loss of McCourty and his 95% snap share would sting. Bates would lock down the back end for the Patriots and allow Phillips and Dugger to work in the box.”

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Bates’ Major Regression in 2021

The Patriots had one of the best defensive backfields in the league this past season. In addition to ranking No. 2 in total defense, New England’s top three safeties (McCourty, Phillips and Dugger) all ranked in the top 33 among all safeties in defensive grade, according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, Phillips’ 80.0 defensive grade ranked eighth, while McCourty’s defensive grade (75.5 overall grade) ranked 16th.

Outside of Matthew Slater, McCourty is the Patriots’ longest-tenured player. The defensive captain was selected by New England in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft and has missed just five games over the course of his 12-season career.

However, McCourty — who will turn 35 years of age in August — is also New England’s oldest player on the defensive unit.

As Robinson notes, Bates has been disappointing in the midst of the Bengals’ resurgent season. After notching Second-Team All-Pro honors in 2020, the 24-year-old has regressed this season.

Bates has produced just a 56.2 defensive grade overall this season — a massive regression from his 90.1 defensive grade of last season.  His grade ranked No. 1 among all safeties last season; his defensive grade ranks 56th among 94 qualifying safeties this season.

With that being said, Bates has yet to even hit 25 years of age and he’s already shown off his potential. If Bates plays in a more structured and proven system in New England, the sky could be the limit for one of the top free agents on the market.

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