Next Pats Podcast

Jonathan Jones makes his pitch for Patriots to keep Kyle Dugger

"Guys like him don't come around often."

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Kyle Dugger has been a staple in the New England Patriots' defensive backfield for the better part of four seasons. But if the Patriots want him back in Year 5, they'll have to pay up.

Dugger is set to hit unrestricted free agency on March 13 after his rookie contract expires. New England can keep him around by giving him the franchise tag -- a one-year deal valued at $16.2 million for safeties -- or working out a long-term extension that likely would be well north of $10 million per year. Otherwise, he'd hit the open market.

Is Dugger worth the financial investment, or should the Patriots focus more of their resources on overhauling an impotent offense? Jonathan Jones knows his answer to that question.

Jones joined Patriots Insider Phil Perry on a new Next Pats Podcast and emphasized how vital Dugger is to New England's defense.

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"I think a lot," Jones responded when asked how important it is for the Patriots to keep Dugger in the fold. "I mean, Dugg has been a centerpiece for us on the defense, especially since Devin (McCourty) left (after the 2022 season). He's played a pivotal part on the defense, and guys like him don't come around often.

"He's one of those old-school football guys that don't mind getting out there and knocking someone out, and I've seen him knock out a couple of offensive linemen. So, you want a guy like that, a tone-setter on your defense."

Dugger started all 17 games for New England in 2023, stuffing the stat sheet with 109 tackles (third on the team), six tackles for loss, two interceptions, seven pass breakups, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. While Dugger was part of a few blown coverages in the passing game, Jones believes the 27-year-old's versatility makes him valuable.

"Man, he's in the action," Jones said. "He's that guy down in the box covering tight ends, fitting on the run. He's the guy doing that. I mean, you want him doing all the dirty work you can as a safety because that's where his skill set is. So, you give him that opportunity, man, he's going to be a playmaker."

The case against paying Dugger might be the strong play of veteran Jabrill Peppers, who emerged as one of the team's best defenders in 2023 and boasts a similar skill set to his safety counterpart. If the Patriots can find a cheaper option to replace Dugger via the NFL Draft or free agency after releasing Adrian Phillips, that might make more financial sense.

Jones believes a defensive backfield of Peppers and Dugger could thrive, however.

"Him and Jabrill, they have that same skill set where they love to be in the action," Jones said of Dugger. "They love to be around the ball, flying around and fitting on the ball. So they definitely love that."

The Patriots have until March 5 to decide whether to give Dugger the franchise tag.

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