Patriots Camp

Should Patriots make signing Kyle Dugger to new contract a priority?

Dugger is entering the final year of his current deal.

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The New England Patriots have a bunch of good players entering the final year of their contract, and perhaps the most notable name in that group is Kyle Dugger.

The talented safety took a meaningful step forward last season and played a key role in one of the NFL's top 10 defenses. He tallied 78 total tackles, three interceptions, eight passes defensed and two touchdowns in 15 games. With longtime Patriots safety Devin McCourty retiring earlier this year, Dugger now has an opportunity to be even more of a focal point on defense, both as an impact player and a leader.

Dugger is able to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason if he doesn't have a new extension before that time. He has a salary cap hit of just $3,647,891 for the upcoming campaign, per Spotrac, which is a pretty good deal for a defensive back of his caliber.

Dugger is trying not to worry about his future right now.

"I’d love to play ball here," Dugger told reporters Wednesday when asked about his contract situation. "As far as everything else, I kind of leave that to my agent. I’m just focused on playing ball while I’m here."

The smart move for the Patriots would be re-signing Dugger ASAP. But from the player's perspective, it might make more sense to wait and put together another season of high performance and potentially increase his earnings as a result.

"If I'm Kyle Dugger, I'm in that boat," our Patriots Insider Phil Perry said Wednesday night on NBC Sports Boston's "Training Camp Central," as seen in the video above.

"I wanna make a Pro Bowl. If I think I'm that talented, I want to put that kind of season on the board because I don't have one like that just yet. Maybe I'm already thought of as a $10 million player, but the highest-paid safety in the league -- and I'm not saying that's what Dugger should be -- makes twice that. In his mind, if he plays at his best this coming year and he's a Pro Bowler, all of a sudden maybe it's $14-15 million. If that's the case, I just can't see them bringing him back at that number."

There are nine safeties in the league who will have a salary cap hit of $10 million or more this coming season, led by Denver Broncos star Justin Simmons at $18.15 million.

The Patriots need to figure out which players will be part of their next core. Dugger, as a homegrown player who's among the most talented on the team, should be part of that group. But paying a ton of money for a safety does carry some risks.

"What is the core moving forward?" Perry said. "How many players can you really point to and say this guy will be one of our guys for the next four years? We're going to build around that guy. I'm not sure there are that many. Dugger, in terms of his talent, would certainly qualify to be one of those guys.

"But at that position, as sort of a strong safety -- I know he'll probably play a little free safety with Devin McCourty gone -- but that's a position where they get Jabrill Peppers, and they get Adrian Phillips and they draft a guy in the third round (Marte Mapu) who might be able to fill that spot. I can't see them paying top of the market there."

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