FOXBORO — Shortly before Thanksgiving 2021, 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 be doing the ‘right thing’ in New England for the foreseeable future.
The veteran safety agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Patriots worth $12.75 million, which will run through the 2024 season.
Some may call Phillips’ deal ‘faith rewarded.’ Others may call it ‘good business.’
For Phillips, it is a call to action.
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. He 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 was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week by the NFL for his performance in Week Eight of the 2021 season, a 27-24 Pats victory over the Chargers.
Still, 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.
Alongside second-year safety Kyle Dugger, Phillips has helped forge one of the best safety tandems in the league. Alongside the present prowess and potential of fellow safety Kyle Dugger, as well as the leadership of team captain Devin McCourty, Phillips’ experience and versatility continues to place him in prime position to be among the Pats’ defensive cornerstones for the upcoming season. It is a trait is not lost on Patriots head coach Bill Belichick:
“It’s very impressive. We’ve been fortunate to have players like that,” Belichick said in late 2021 when asked about Phillips’ ability to play multiple roles in the Pats defense.
“Certainly, [former safety Patrick] 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 accentuates his skillset, but also creates opportunities for his teammates to play in position. With the addition of veteran safety Jabrill Peppers in the offseason, the Patriots will be well-stocked at the box. However, the unit’s collective versatility will almost certainly lead to Phillips, Dugger and Peppers aligning all over the defensive landscape at various points in 2022.
As such, Phillips’ continues to embody the oldest and noblest of Patriots traditions — doing his job. Having earned his initial accolades through a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection as a primary special teamer in 2018 with the Chargers, Phillips has become an integral part of the Patriots defensive backfield — a role in which he was underutilized during his time with the Bolts. No matter the mission, Phillips is willing to accept it. With his extension keeping him in the Foxboro fold, he will now have the opportunity to potentially blaze his trail in Patriots history.