New England Patriots Free Agent Grades: Peppers another low-risk move

Jabrill Peppers #21 of the New York Giants (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Jabrill Peppers #21 of the New York Giants (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots continue to build themselves back up little by little this offseason.

With many teams turning their focus towards preparing for the NFL Draft, which is now less than a month away, the Pats continue to scour the free agent market for low-risk, high-reward deals.

The latest player brought in to fit that mold is former New York Giants safety Jabrill Peppers. Peppers was brought in yesterday for a visit with the team, as the Pats are looking to replace J.C. Jackson in pretty much anyway they can. The New England Patriots ended up not letting Peppers leave without a deal, and he ended up with a one year, $5 million contract as a result.

Peppers’ signing has continued Bill Belichick‘s trend towards bringing in some veteran players to help out their secondary. Terrance Mitchell, Malcolm Butler, and Ty Montgomery are the only other external free agent signings, and Mitchell and Butler both play cornerback. So with Peppers on board, let’s take a closer look at his fit with the team and hand out a final grade for the deal.

New England Patriots continue to address their secondary with the signing of Jabrill Peppers

Despite entering just his sixth season in the NFL, Peppers is already joining the third team of his career. After being drafted with the 25th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Peppers would end up getting traded to the Giants after just two seasons with Cleveland as part of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade.

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Peppers has spent much of his career mixing flashes of potential with periods of poor play. He struggled for most of his first campaign with New York before improving a bit the next year. Peppers had an OK start to the 2021 season, but he ended up tearing his ACL in the sixth game of the season and was done for the year.

Peppers now joins a loaded safety room that already features the likes of Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, and Kyle Dugger. Peppers playstyle is similar to that of Dugger and Phillips, so his signing seems to signal a trend towards a more positionless secondary, which makes sense. Losing Jackson has left a huge hole on defense, and while drafting a cornerback is still likely next month, having as many competant coverage guys seems to be what Belichick is going for right now.

The role Peppers will play in the defense probably won’t be truly known until the team takes the field. Peppers has spent time playing as an off-the-ball safety, in a slot coverage role, and as an in- the-box safety/linebacker hybrid. He’s worn many hats before, and his versatility is almost certainly what drew Belichick to him.

Peppers has some unique capabilities that make him a bit of an interesting signing. He’s shown flashes of being a Jamal Adams-type player, who can blitz the quarterback one play and then play 15 yards off the ball the next play. The problem is he has been far too inconsistent when he’s been on the field to ever really reach his full potential.

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Prior to his ACL injury last season, Peppers was getting torched in coverage. Opponents had a passer rating of 122.1 on passes thrown his way, and of the 23 passes he faced in coverage, only three of them fell incomplete. Granted it’s a small sample size, but Peppers was getting picked on pretty consistently early on in the season.

What Peppers lacks in coverage he makes up for in other areas. He’s a very solid tackler at all levels of the field, and his ability to blitz the quarterback from the safety position is quite hard to find nowadays. He has 3.5 sacks over the past two seasons, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but considering the time he missed and how rarely safeties get sacks, that’s something that bears watching.

The New England Patriots cannot really rely on Peppers to be a consistent player, but the good news is they don’t really have to. Peppers can spend the 2022 season learning the system and being a situational player to start, before eventually moving into a bigger role if he excels. He’s got some desirable traits, and if he has a solid season, he could end up being McCourty’s eventual replacement.

Peppers has tons of potential, which makes signing him to a cheap one year, $5 million deal a low-risk, high-reward move. Peppers hasn’t been as good as a first round pick is expected to be, but Belichick has a way of getting the best out of players who make the move to New England. Peppers could be the next guy to join that list.

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This deal is pretty similar to when the team signed Phillips in free agency two years ago. Phillips was a skilled player who was coming back from an injury, and the Pats were able to scoop him up on a cheap deal. Phillips has blossomed during his time with the Patriots, and earned himself a nice three year extension towards the end of the season.

Peppers is a very similar player to Phillips, and Belichick is going to be hoping to have the same success he had with Phillips. $5 million is pretty cheap considering how good Peppers could be, and he’s also still just 26 years old. Peppers could end up becoming a vital piece of the New England Patriots secondary, and even if he doesn’t this isn’t a deal that is going to destroy the salary cap, making it another solid, low-key move for New England.