The world champion New England Patriots were able to retain one of their most important defensive players less than 48 hours before the beginning of free agency when they re-signed free safety Devin McCourty to a five-year, $47.5 million contract. Mike Garafalo of FOX Sports was the first with the news. According to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, the contract includes $28.5 million in total guarantees.
"I'm blessed to say we had other teams that were interested but I said all along that I knew in my heart that I wanted to be back in New England," McCourty said Sunday night on Comcast SportsNet. "But I also knew the business side of football, and I had to do what I had to do. I'm back, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't possibilities over the last two days that I was going to be somewhere else. I'm happy it all worked out."
How close was McCourty to an exit from Foxboro? Reiss reports that the veteran actually had a deal with another team, called head coach Bill Belichick to say goodbye and thanks for five great seasons ... and that's when the Patriots countered with the offer that worked. McCourty did indeed accept less money to stay with the Pats, but it almost went another way.
Selected in the first round of the 2010 draft out of Rutgers, McCourty played his first couple of seasons as a pretty good cornerback—he had seven interceptions in his rookie year—but as it's been with so many players Belichick has coached, he really hit his stride when he moved to a new position. McCourty played a hybrid cornerback/safety role in 2012 to help eliminate the team's vulnerability to the big downfield play, moved to more of a pure safety position in 2013, and became the team's definitive deep cover man in 2014.
Per Pro Football Focus' metrics, McCourty allowed 16 catches on 28 targets for 193 yards, two touchdowns, with three picks and four passes defensed in the 2014 regular and postseasons. Pretty impressive stats for a guy covering the deep part of the defense most of the time, and he was especially impressive in the postseason, allowing one catch on six targets for 17 yards and an interception.
“Devin, he’s outstanding," Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis said a few days before Super Bowl XLIX. "He’s been outstanding before I got here and he’s continuing to be outstanding. I feel like he’s the best free safety in the league. He has so much range out there. He’s so fast. I think the biggest thing I respect him for and appreciate him is how he studies the game and how he knows the game so well. He’s a student of the game and he works so hard at it. It’s crazy. It’s pretty awesome to get feedback from other guys and see how hard they work.”
McCourty had several suitors for his services, with the Jaguars, Titans, Giants and Eagles reportedly pushing aggressively to sign him. And with his ability to play outside corner and deep safety at a Pro Bowl level, it's easy to see why. There really isn't another player in the league who can do those two things at that level.
This is a no-brainer deal, especially for a team that scores a lot of points and forces opponents to throw the ball a lot to catch up—especially with the evolution of the passing game, when you have a top-level deep safety, you do whatever you have to in order to keep him. McCourty's deal is in line with the contracts given to San Diego's Eric Weddle and Seattle's Earl Thomas in recent years, and that's as it should be. In 2014, he may have been New England's most indispensable defender not named Darrelle Revis. Now, Belichick's focus turns to Revis, and the potential for another long-term deal.