Yesterday, the New England Patriots made their first big move of the offseason, as they released veteran safety Steve Gregory. This saved the team just under $3 million (2.8), and I think that is exactly why they cut Gregory. To save money. But this now makes the safety position a weak area for New England, as second year man Duron Harmon is currently the starting strong safety. The Pats will have to add some talented safeties this offseason, otherwise their pass defense will be a mess in 2014.
There aren’t a lot of realistic options in this area for the Patriots, specifially with their constraints regarding the salary cap. The top two free agent safeties, Jairus Byrd, and T.J. Ward, are terrific players, but there is no way New England will be able to match other offers from around the league. This leaves the Pats with guys that are certainly solid players, but definitely not game-breakers (Thomas DeCoud, Malcom Jenkins etc.).
According to ‘Advanced NFL Stats’, Steve Gregory wasn’t too bad in 2013. He ranked 31st in the league in ‘WPA’ (Positive Win Probability Added), which is only seven slots behind fellow safety Devin McCourty. For other comparison, DeCoud ranked 54th in the NFL, San Francisco’s Donte Whitner checked in at 50, and Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd finished ranked 48th. Gregory is excellent when he moves down into the box and plays the run, and even though his coverage skills aren’t on par with a McCourty, he certainly is capable in the back end. This all goes without talking about how smart he is. Throughout the 2013 season, his teammates raved about how smart of a player Gregory was, which is extremely important when you are the last line of defense.
I just don’t see how the Patriots are going to improve the safety position with Gregory out of the picture. Unless Bill Belichick and company know something about Duron Harmon that we don’t, I see no plausible scenario where the Pats walk out of this with better safety group. Sure you could go after someone like DeCoud, or Jenkins, but are they better than Gregory? Not in my mind. I liked how Gregory bounced back from his bad 2012 campaign last year, and despite a sizable cap hit, I think New England should have kept him on the team.