Why Adrian Phillips was the Patriots Best Free Agent Signing
Some might think of free agency as a time for teams to sign big-name players to big-money deals, but not the Patriots. Aside from the rare expectations, like Stephon Gilmore in 2017, the Patriots have used free agency to sign underrated veterans to low-cost contracts. The Patriots continued that strategy this offseason. They made several signings during the free agency period, but none were more significant than bringing in Adrian Phillips. In March, Phillips was signed to a two-year deal with a max value of $7.5 million and $3 million guaranteed. In this article, I’ll explain why Phillips will make the biggest impact of all the Patriots free agent signings.
Phillips began his NFL career in 2014 when he was signed by the San Diego Chargers (now the Los Angeles Chargers) as an undrafted rookie free agent. The start of his career was jump-started by his ability to play on special teams and his high football IQ. Phillips got his first real playing time in 2016. According to Pro Football Reference, in the 2016 season Phillips played 51% of the defensive snaps. The following two seasons, Phillips expanded his role on both defense and special teams. Phillips gained national recognition in 2018 when he made First-Team All-Pro as a special teamer. Although he gained achievements for his special teams play, Phillips remained underrated as a safety. The 2018 season saw Phillips rack up 94 tackles and 9 passes defended.
By the 2019 season, Phillips was a staple in the Chargers secondary. Unfortunately, Phillips broke his arm last season and was only able to play seven games. The next chapter in Phillips’ story will be written in New England
Anyone who’s watched the Patriots under Bill Belichick knows the value placed on versatility. Phillips immediately becomes one of the more versatile safeties on the roster. Standing at 5’11” and weighing 210 lbs, Phillips is built like a strong safety. With the Chargers, he played both strong safety and free safety. But that wasn’t all; he also played as a hybrid linebacker but was mostly used as a box safety. The versatility continues to add up when you consider his talent on special teams. As we stated before, Phillips isn’t only a Pro Bowl special teamer, he’s also a First-Team All-Pro special teamer. The ability to do multiple things well matters when you’re on a team with so much depth at safety.
It might be tempting to pencil in Phillips for the Duron Harmon role, but that likely won’t be the case. Phillips is more of a Patrick Chung-style safety. He’s best when playing the run and covering tight ends. Phillips’ versatility could translate to him seeing action as a free safety, but he has limitations in pass coverage. His primary role will be backing up Chung. In fact, we predict Phillips likely takes away some of Chung’s snaps. The signing of Phillips will also likely limit the playing time of second-round draft selection, Kyle Dugger.
Because the Patriots are so loaded at safety and so thin at linebacker, you can bet Phillips will play some of the hybrid linebacker role he played with the Chargers. Devin McCourty, Chung, and Phillips could all be on the field at the same time. Essentially, Phillips will be a do-it-all chess piece for the Patriots. A 60 tackle season for Phillips is a realistic goal.
Belichick will have a lot of fun with such a high IQ football player. We can’t forget the sizable impact Phillips will have on special teams. With punt team gunners Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel already on the roster, it will be interesting to see where Phillips fits in. No matter what his job ends up being on special teams, it will be done right. We expect to see Phillips on almost all the special teams’ units.
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