While one very important member of the New England Patriots 2014-15 secondary left for “greener” pastures, another one re-signed with the squad.
Devin McCourty and the Patriots agreed on a five-year, $47.5 million contract over the offseason. The hope was that Darrelle Revis would re-sign as well, but he went back to the Jets.
McCourty has become one of the better safeties in the NFL, and was paid accordingly. With him manning the deep part of the field, the Patriots can feel confident that someone they can depend on is the last line of defense.
Unless . . . he’s no longer a safety.
McCourty lined up at cornerback against the Saints last weekend, prompting fear that the Patriots may try to slide him back there to make up for lost talent.
Though McCourty is now taking the high road about it, he was not a fan of the change after the game, telling reporters, “"I hope it's not permanent. As a player, that's out of your control."
He later added, "It didn't feel great, and I don't think it looked great, so we'll see."
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The problem is that McCourty isn’t a great cornerback. It’s one of the main reasons he was moved to safety. He’s better facing the action than turned away from it.
Bill Belichick knows this too, and the move – in a meaningless second preseason game – could be nothing more than emergency situation preparation.
So assuming McCourty is lining up at free safety in Week 1, who’s lining up next to him? Pat Chung could once again be the guy after a successful return to the Patriots last season. Chung excelled as the strong safety that was able to stay in the box and not worry as much about the deeper part of the field where McCourty was, or anywhere on the field where Revis was.
But the starting job certainly isn’t a lock for Chung, who could be fighting for it along with Duron Harmon and rookie Jordan Richards. Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner could also contribute.
The Patriots drafted Richards in the second round, considered a reach by just about everybody not inside the Patriots war room. But Belichick doesn’t care for mock drafts. He sees a player he likes and he drafts him. It’s no wonder he likes Richards, who’s played all over the field in his first two preseason games.
Belichick spoke very highly of the rookie, saying that he’s been able to take what he’s learning in the classroom and apply it on the field.
“It’s not just a classroom thing. He’s shown the ability to apply it both on defense and in the kicking game, in the running game and in the passing game,” Belichick said. “He has a lot of passion and he works hard, and those things are evident, but they’re also showing up in his performance and his production so that’s good."