New England Patriots' 2019 free-agent signings: Jason McCourty returns to deep secondary

Cornerback Jason McCourty has 17 interceptions over 10 NFL seasons. Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire

A breakdown of the New England Patriots' 2019 free-agent signings.

Jason McCourty, cornerback

The New England Patriots and cornerback McCourty have reached agreement on a two-year deal with a base value of $10 million ($5.5 million guaranteed) that could be worth as much as $11 million with incentives. McCourty, the twin brother of Patriots safety Devin McCourty, spent the 2018 season with the Patriots after previously having been with the Browns (2017) and Titans (2009-2016).

What it means: McCourty, who turns 32 in August, made valuable contributions to the Patriots' Super Bowl-winning campaign and his return bolsters what is arguably the deepest position on the roster with Stephon Gilmore, McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen. In a passing league, having a talented, deep, versatile defensive backfield is critical and the Patriots are well-stocked. McCourty's leadership was also cited by some of the team's younger players, so his return also has a positive trickle-down effect on Jackson, Dawson and Crossen -- all second-year players who appear to have bright futures.

What's the risk: Minimal, but teams are always balancing investing too much in older players in free agency.


Phillip Dorsett, wide receiver

The Patriots and Dorsett reached an agreement on a one-year deal for $2.6 million. Here's a closer look at Dorsett, who spent the previous two seasons in New England after being with the Colts the first two years of his career:

What it means: The Patriots went hard after slot receiver Adam Humphries, who ended up choosing the Titans over coming to New England, and so this was one of the first dominoes to fall after that turn of events early in free agency. The Patriots might have brought Dorsett back regardless, as he was a valuable substitute in 2018 who showed the ability to make some critical plays in pressure situations (e.g. TD catches in playoff wins against the Chargers and Chiefs). The team is still thin at receiver, so it would be a surprise if the Patriots' moves stop with Dorsett.

What's the risk: The one-year term means that if Dorsett breaks out, he could become a much more expensive option on the market in 2020. But that's a minimal risk to take.


John Simon, outside linebacker

The Patriots and Simon agreed to an extension for two years with a base value of $4.125 million that can increase to $7.125 million with incentives. Here's a closer look at Simon, who joined the Patriots last September after being cut by the Colts entering the second season of a three-year, $13.5 million deal:

What it means: The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Simon is a solid player who carved out a role on the 46-man game-day roster last season, so the significance of his return shouldn't be overlooked despite him not being a bigger name on the market. Consider that Simon played 85 defensive snaps over three playoff games last season, which reflects how his role grew as the importance of games did. Every team needs starting-caliber players at manageable salary-cap charges, which helps build a strong middle class on the roster, and Simon falls into this category. It is why Simon's odds of returning were rated highly entering free agency.

What's the risk: Simon's injury history. Since emerging as a full-time starter in 2015, he has played in all 16 games in a regular season once (2015 with Houston).


Brandon Bolden, running back

The Patriots and Bolden have reached agreement on a two-year contract worth $4.7 million. Here's a closer look at Bolden, who played for the Patriots from 2012-2017 before spending the 2018 season with the Dolphins:

What it means: With three running backs on the roster (James White, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead), the Patriots need to fill out their depth chart at a time when teams can carry up to 90 players. So bringing back Bolden -- who is a core special-teams player that adds depth as a No. 4 option at running back -- adds a well-known player to the team who also contributes to the often-overlooked locker-room culture. The financial terms of the deal, which guarantees him $2 million, indicates that Bolden will be on the roster and that the club perhaps regrets letting him go last year.

What's the risk: Potentially devoting too much salary-cap space to a player whose primary contributions come on special teams. This is a stronger financial deal for Bolden than anticipated, and highlights how the Patriots devote as many resources to core special-teams players as any team in the NFL.


Mike Pennel, defensive tackle

The Patriots signed Pennel to a two-year deal with a base value of $5 million (incentives can increase the pact to a maximum of $8 million). Here is a closer look at Pennel, who has appeared in 69 career regular-season games for the Packers (2014-2016) and Jets (2017-2018):

What it means: The Patriots needed a replacement for defensive tackle Malcom Brown, who signed a reported three-year, $15 million deal with the Saints, and the 6-foot-4, 332-pound Pennel fits the bill. He's a big, strong, powerful player who projects as a starter next to Lawrence Guy on the interior on early downs before coming off the field in obvious passing situations. And he comes cheaper on the salary cap.

What's the risk: On the field, not much. Off the field, Pennel was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, but those with the Jets described him as a model citizen the past two years.


Terrence Brooks, safety

The Patriots agreed with Brooks on a two-year deal worth $4 million. Here is a closer look at Brooks, who has played in 65 career regular-season games with the Ravens (2014-2015), Eagles (2016) and Jets (2017-2018):

What it means: Bill Belichick values special teams as much as any head coach in the NFL and this signing on the second day of free agency is reflective of that. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Brooks -- who entered the NFL as a third-round draft choice of the Ravens out of Florida State in 2014 -- was a challenge for the Patriots to compete against the past two seasons. Improving those units is always on Belichick's radar.

What's the risk: Similar to Brandon Bolden, the main risk is on the financial side, and potentially devoting too much salary-cap space to a player whose primary contributions come on special teams.


Maurice Harris, receiver

The Patriots signed Harris to a one-year, $1 million deal (includes $90,000 guaranteed and an injury split/waiver). Here's a closer look at the 2016 undrafted free agent out of California who has appeared in 28 career regular-season games with Washington, totaling 28 receptions:

What it means: Harris wasn't tendered an offer as a restricted free agent by Washington, making him a free agent, and the Patriots pounced on him after losing out on free-agent slot receiver Adam Humphries. Harris is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, and considered a solid route-runner with good hands, but isn't particularly fast. He will vie for a roster spot at a position that remains arguably the team's top need. Harris did some nice things against the Patriots in the preseason, which might have caught the attention of Belichick and Co.

What's the risk: The Patriots need to fill out the depth chart, and in a situation with low expectations, there's low risk. Harris’ injury history was clearly part of the Patriots' thinking in terms of risk, which is reflected in the contract having an injury waiver/split.


Bruce Ellington, receiver

The Patriots agreed with Ellington on a one-year deal for $895,000 with $25,000 guaranteed. Here's a closer look at Ellington, who has played in 44 career regular-season games with the 49ers (2014-15), Texans (2017-18) and Lions (2018):

What it means: The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Ellington is a slot receiver with punt-return and kickoff-return experience. Once the Patriots didn't land top target Humphries in free agency, they starting looking at fallback options, which led them to Ellington. The South Carolina alum has a background in a Patriots-type system from his time with Bill O'Brien's Texans and Matt Patricia's Lions, but he'll still need to fight for a roster spot in New England.

What's the risk: Health. Ellington has had some issues with his hamstring in the past, once telling reporters that he had part of it surgically removed.


Matt LaCosse, tight end

The Patriots agreed to terms with LaCosse on a two-year deal worth up to $3.8 million ($500,000 guaranteed). Here's a closer look at LaCosse, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois with Giants in 2015 and broke through last season with the Broncos with 24 receptions for 250 yards and one touchdown:

What it means: The Patriots released No. 2 option Dwayne Allen, whose primary contributions came as a blocker, and now add the 6-foot-6, 255-pound LaCosse as a potential option to fill his void. LaCosse had five catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns in the 2017 preseason finale against the Patriots, and one wonders if Belichick has been keeping eyes on him since. He has a longer, lankier build - giving him the look of more of a big receiver -- but that doesn't mean there isn't potential for him to develop as an inline blocker.

What's the risk: LaCosse is still developing, and the Patriots are making a financial investment -- albeit not one that breaks the bank -- that projects him continuing to grow at the position.


Ryan Allen, punter

The Patriots signed Allen to a one-year deal with a maximum value of $1.55 million on Thursday. The deal includes a $100,000 signing bonus, $900,000 base salary, and up to $500,000 in roster bonuses (paid out $31,250 per game). There is a $50,000 incentive if Allen makes the Pro Bowl. Here is a closer look at Allen, who has been the Patriots' punter and holder since 2013:

What it means: This is an important re-signing for the Patriots, as Allen is coming off one of the best games in his career in Super Bowl LIII and has proven adept at executing situational punting that is a big part of what the team prioritizes with field position in mind. While the left-footed Allen doesn't have the strongest leg, his placement and hang time are often excellent. Allen is also an important part of the team's field-goal operation as the holder, and with kicker Stephen Gostkowski's free-agent status still unresolved, bringing Allen back eliminates the potential of multiple forced changes with Patriots specialists in 2019.

What's the risk: The one-year term means the Patriots are back in the same spot next offseason with Allen, when the price could be significantly higher if Allen has a solid season. That's why a second punter is likely to be brought in at some point, similar to how the Patriots did in 2018 with Corey Bojorquez (now with the Bills).