The New England Patriots added two safeties to the mix this offseason, as they signed former Arizona Cardinals star Adrian Wilson to a three-year deal and also drafted Duron Harmon in the third round of the draft. The length of Wilson’s deal is interesting, because he is 33 years old and this would indicate that the Patriots believe he isn’t declining. Since the Cardinals decided to cut ties with Wilson, it would seem like they believe he has already declined, and the organization did bench him last season. However, they were also the ones to cut Kerry Rhodes with him and really just seemed to want an overhaul at safety and go younger as a team. Wilson’s struggles were also overstated, as he was still excellent on short and intermediate routes; just don’t ask him to cover deep. The Patriots don’t really use a safety in-the-box, but that could change if they feel like Wilson’s strength and enforcing ability warrant that. I like the signing of Wilson and view him as an upgrade over the man this profile is about, but is three years too rich?
Steve Gregory seems to be the odd man out at safety after those two offseason acquisitions, because he would be fourth on my depth chart. Devin McCourty is locked in as a star at free safety, and the Patriots didn’t sign Wilson to pay on the bench (I forgot to mention that his deal is quite team-friendly). Tavon Wilson was the higher graded player per the Pro Football Focus last season, so I am inclined to believe that he would start over Gregory. The younger Wilson is heading into his second year in the NFL, and he is also cheaper than Gregory. Beyond that, he’s simply a better player in coverage and showed plenty of promise last season. Covering tight ends is more important than ever in this league, and this is something Wilson excels at.
Last season, Gregory led the Patriots with 13 missed tackles, and he was one of just two players to have more missed tackles than stops (the other was Aqib Talib, who was the team’s most overrated player last season). The biggest problem, though, is the fact that Gregory had some big issues in coverage, as he allowed 13 yards per reception and had a very poor 88.8 QB Rating allowed.
There is no better game to examine Gregory’s struggles than against the Baltimore Ravens, and he was simply terrible in coverage at safety and was the team’s worst player on defense. Per PFF, Gregory was thrown at five times, allowed four receptions for 54 yards, allowed 46 yards after the catch, gave up a touchdown, and had a terrible QB Rating allowed of 151.3. I know it’s just one game, but I’m sure those of you who believe that a veteran player on the roster should perform at a higher level in the clutch than youngsters like Tavon Wilson are disappointed by these numbers.
Gregory is better off as a strong safety than a free safety due to his issues in coverage, but it isn’t like the Pats would play Gregory much at FS with Devin McCourty locked in. He won’t be stealing any snaps from Wilson either, as Wilson received a three-year deal and is also the better player. Where does that leave Gregory? He is 30, is set to make $1.25 million this year and $2.25 million in 2014, but he also had $3.35 million in guaranteed money as part of that big three-year, $7.05 million deal he signed last offseason. And yes, you read that right, Steve Gregory signed a larger deal per year for three years than Adrian Wilson. Mistake made by the Patriots? I think so.
I’m not sure how much the Patriots would be on the hook for if they released Gregory in training camp, so I guess it comes down to whether or not they still believe in the money they spent on Gregory. They aren’t going to release two safeties they just drafted in Wilson and Harmon, especially since you would think the Patriots want to prove that they didn’t “reach” for either of them (I don’t think they reached on Wilson, but I’m still not sold on Harmon even if he is an underrated prospect). The deal the Patriots gave to Wilson solidifies, in my mind, that Gregory is on the way out. The money they are on the hook for isn’t big enough to be a deal-breaker by any means, and his subpar year (13 missed tackles and an 88.8 QB Rating allowed) in 2012 basically means that he is the safety with the biggest chance of getting cut. If he wants to stick around, then he will need to have an absolutely huge camp.