Skip to main content

Adrian Phillips' Contract Extension with Patriots Rekindles Comparisons to Rodney Harrison's Success

Ex-Bolts' Adrian Phillips and Rodney Harrison each found success in New England through versatility and a strong-work ethic.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick described safety Adrian Phillips as a player who “almost always does the right thing,”

On New Year’s Day, it became apparent that Phillips will doing the ‘right thing’ in New England for the foreseeable future.

As first reported by ESPN's Adam Caplan, the veteran safety has agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Patriots worth $12.75 million, which will run through the 2024 season. The deal includes $7.25 million in guaranteed money and carries a maximum value of $14.25 million, per Caplan’s report on Saturday.

After spending six seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, Phillips signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Patriots prior to the 2020 season. Thus far, his tenure in New England has been a resounding success. The 29-year-old ranks third on the team in tackles (76) and has a career-high four interceptions (one of which he returned for a touchdown) through 15 games in addition to eight pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Phillips’ greatest asset remains his versatility. He has nicely settled into the ‘Star’ role in the Pats defense. As such, he is primarily used as a hybrid box safety, capable of playing outside linebacker in most defensive schemes. However, he is also far from limited to that role. Phillips is more than capable of aligning along the defensive line, at slot corner and even outside-wide. Still, Phillips is at his best when playing in the box. He is a strong tackler with decent speed and is most effective when playing closer to the line of scrimmage. As such, he is the ideal defensive back to cover a tight end, or a running back out of the backfield.

Needless to say, Phillips has been one of the Patriots best free agent signings in recent memory.

Not bad, for a player who only became available due to his release from the Chargers.

As it turns out, this would not be the first time that the Patriots’ had drawn a cup of success from that same well.

An Opposite, but Equal Charge?

Throughout his NFL career, safety Rodney Harrison was one of the most fearsome strong safeties in the NFL. After spending the first nine of his 15 NFL seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Harrison was cut loose by the Chargers at the conclusion of the 2002 season. Two weeks after his release, Harrison landed with the Patriots, signing a six-year deal. He was a key component in a Pats defense that won back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 2003 and 2004 (XXXVIII, XXXIX). Perhaps his most memorable moment as a Patriot was his game-sealing interception in Super Bowl XXXIX that ended the last drive of the Philadelphia Eagles. Harrison’s leadership abilities were evident in his being selected as a team captain in each of his six seasons with the Pats.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Throughout his career, Harrison was a two-time Pro-Bowler and a two-time First team All Pro. He holds the distinction of being the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns on an interception return, fumble return and kickoff return in the same season (which he accomplished in 1997 as a member of the Chargers.) As a Patriot, Harrison shined his brightest in the postseason. In the 2004-2005 NFL Playoffs, he had four interceptions in three games. His seven playoff interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown) are a Patriots team record.

On October 21, 2007, Harrison became the initial member of the 30/30 Club of players with both 30 interceptions and 30 sacks (a distinction held only by him and NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis).

He finished his career in 2009 with 1,205 tackles, 34 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. Harrison has the most sacks (30.5) of any defensive back in NFL history. Upon his retirement, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called Harrison “one of the best players” he has ever coached. Harrison’s performance with the Patriots earned him a spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame, as well as bolstered his case for potential enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

History Repeats Itself?

While it is currently a bit of a stretch of determine if Phillips’ career trajectory may carry him to similar heights as Harrison, their journey to prominence in New England does contain some parallels.

At the time of his arrival in New England, the Patriots already had Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy under contract. Throughout the offseason, though, the Patriots and Milloy were involved in contract negotiations, with the Patriots requesting Milloy take a pay cut or be released. Milloy did not agree to a salary reduction, leading to his release by the Patriots on the eve of the 2003 season. To many, Harrison faced a tall task in replacing the popular Milloy; on the field, in the locker room and in fanbase popularity. Despite a solid resume, Harrison was determined to earn his spot. His work ethic and on-field prowess earned him a distinction as a defensive captain in his first year with the Patriots.

Harrison not only filled Milloy’s shoes, but he also left his own pair behind for future Patriots to fill.

Though Phillips is still forging his own legacy in New England, he has also helped to fill the shoes of a long-time prominent Patriot. When former New England safety Patrick Chung announced his retirement earlier this year, Bill Belichick called him “everything a coach could want” and “one of the pillars of our program.”

Alongside second-year safety Kyle Dugger, Phillips has helped to fill Chung’s role in New England’s defense. Though Dugger may be a promising young player, Phillips’ experience and versatility have placed him in prime position to be among the Pats’ defensive cornerstones for many years to come. It is a trait is not lost on Belichick:

“It’s very impressive. We’ve been fortunate to have players like that,” Belichick said when asked about Phillips’ ability to play multiple roles in the Pats defense.

“Certainly, Chung did a lot of that for us. Devin [McCourty] has done it, can do it. Physically, that’s probably not the best thing for him, but he’s done it for us and has done it well. Devin came in the league as a corner, but Adrian was very good around the line of scrimmage for the Chargers. In San Diego, he played in the box. He played on the edge of the defense. They played that style of the defense where the safeties really play as linebackers.”

Phillips has certainly done just that in New England. His ability to play bigger than his position does harken back to the days of Harrison’s presence in the Pats’ defensive backfield. Though their styles may be different, Phillips’ may learn much by using the foundation Harrison set during his days in New England. Thanks to his contract extension, Adrian Phillips will now have the opportunity to blaze his own trail in Patriots history.