Making Sense of Patrick Chung’s Surprise Return to the Patriots

After an unceremonious year in Philadelphia, Patrick Chung’s return to New England was a move few saw coming. (USA Today Sports Images)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

When a team’s former top pick logs three playoff snaps in a contract year, it sends a message.

It sends a message that the results did not equal the investment, that the player is not part of the solution, and that the organization is moving on.

In March of 2013, that appeared to be the case with Patrick Chung.

The New England Patriots allowed the 34th overall selection in the 2009 draft to walk. And the safety did, signing with the Philadelphia Eagles on a three-year, $10 million deal.

It was short-lived.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly decided to cut ties with the Oregon Duck just 364 days after signing him. Philadelphia didn’t find the 26-year-old to be part of the solution, either, and saved $3.25 million by releasing him.

As that reunion ended, though, another one began.

The Patriots re-signed Chung on April 3.

It was an unforeseeable move that came with a bevy questions. Most of which were built on the same inquiry: What did head coach Bill Belichick and Co. see in Chung now that they didn’t see before?

There isn’t a simple answer. It’s unlikely that New England’s brass sees anything different in the 5’11”, 210-pound defensive back.

There is no guarantee that Chung will be a starter like he was for 30 of his 50 contests with the team. There is no guarantee he will make the 53-man roster.

However, on the books for a modest one-year, $740,000 base deal worth up to $1.1 million, there is limited risk in finding out.

For two seasons, Chung was a focal point in New England’s defensive backfield. His 2010 campaign netted 96 tackles, three interceptions and nine pass deflections. And his 2011 campaign, albeit limited and paired with the likes of Josh Barrett, Nate Jones and Sergio Brown, amassed 62 tackles, one sack, and interception and four pass deflections.

But even when Chung was a bright spot in an uncertain Patriots secondary, there were bouts of inconsistency. He missed 14 contests over his last three years with the team. There were issues with his instincts in space and the angles he took to the ball. And in 2012, those aspects boiled over in Steve Gregory assuming a starting role in his place, relegating him to more sub-package snaps.

Whether it was due to injuries, a bad fit, or regression, it all came to a head last year in Philadelphia.

Over the course of 12 games, Chung was supplanted by Kurt Coleman on multiple occasions. He allowed five touchdowns and a 124.7 quarterback rating on 32 targets, according to Pro Football Focus. And he also ranked last at the position with a 3.6 tackling efficiency in the passing game.

In contrast, Patriots free safety Devin McCourty ranked first and third, respectively, with 10.1 and 43.0 marks.

Those numbers reflect the tempered expectations for Chung. New England isn’t re-acquiring a savior at strong safety, nor is that Chung’s outlook.

“I don’t have any expectations,” Chung said in last Thursday’s conference call. “Whatever Bill [Belichick] needs me to do, this team, I’m going to do it. Regardless if it’s special teams or it’s defense, whatever my role is here, I’m OK with that. This is where I want to be, so that’s good for me.”

Regardless of his long-term future, Chung provides speed, system familiarity, special-teams experience, in-the-box ability and an edge to the Patriots defense. He doesn’t coincide with a Cover-2 defense so much as he does with a Cover-1, but there’s reason to believe that his previous tenure will help mold a serviceable use for him.

And with the departure of Gregory and Adrian Wilson – who was let go the day after Chung was brought in – he also figures to supplement the collection of youth.

2013 third-rounder Duron Harmon, 2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson, 2012 sixth-rounder Nate Ebner and the undrafted Kanorris Davis have seven career starts between them. The latter three were utilized primarily on special teams last season, while the 6’1”, 205-pound Harmon started three games and looked the part.

With those forces in play, it would be short-sighted to say Chung fills New England’s needs at safety. It is difficult to rely on a player who hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year in 2009, let alone a player who hasn’t played at their highest level for two seasons. Yet at the same time, Chung is a player who brings more than capable competition to the group.

Much will hinge on how the team’s brass views Harmon, who looks in line to be the starter in 2014. But based on New England’s reported consideration to move second-year cornerback Logan Ryan to the back end, it wouldn’t be a surprise if safety was addressed in May’s draft.

The waters will be clearer by then, even the depth chart isn’t.

After all, as Chung’s return illustrated, it’s too soon to rule anyone out.

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24 Responses to “Making Sense of Patrick Chung’s Surprise Return to the Patriots”

  1. Barkevious says:

    Seeing “2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson” still makes me gag. We knew it then. It’s a blown opportunity that still hurts…me, at least.

  2. Joe Blake says:

    Why did we draft Chung when Byrd was available?

    • Philip says:

      the same question would be … why did we draft Dowling when Sherman was still available? … or why did we draft Brace when Melton was still available…. he was the better prospect after college in their opinion … every year there are player who are tremendous college players, but suck in the NFL

      • Joe Blake says:

        you missed the point. No they are not the same. The players played a similar position at the same school and were drafted in the same year. One would think the scouting would have seen both players at the same draft days. Easy comparison. Byrd’s bio was much stronger than Chung’s in terms of on field production. Chung had a better petigree in terms of family circumstances, volunteerism etc. That’s where BB screws things up. He passes on talent over his perception of coach ability. Chung bats balls down, Byrd intercepts

  3. J H TARBORO says:

    Here is a player the Patriots should look at the RB position as an UDFA, he is Danny Woodhead clone, his name is Kyle Harbridge 5’9 206 Saint Francis PA. Take a look at him.

    • acm says:

      taller than Danny Woodhead and has a high center of gravity, as well. As a result, Harbridge isn’t as shifty, not as sudden in his change of direction and looks more of a straight-line runner than DW.

  4. Dan Sullivan says:

    Patriot Predictions

    Free Agents
    Uche Nawaneri G Jaguars
    James Anderson OLB Bears

    1 Trade for 2,3 and 6.
    2 JaWaun James OT Tennessee
    2 Kareem Martin DE NC
    3 Trevor Reilly OLB/DE Utah
    3 Jordan Matthews WR Vanderbilt
    4 Deandre Coleman DL California
    4 Marcel Jensen TE Fresno State
    6 Jacob Pedersen TE Wisconsin
    6 Tyler Larsen C Utah State
    6 Avery Williamson ILB Kentucky
    7 Jerome Smith RB Syracuse

  5. Jim R says:

    Pats doing due diligence on QB’s this year because they could be free agents in 2018 when Brady is no longer under contract. IMO

  6. GM-In-Training says:

    Competition is good. Draft-day flexibility is good. Special-Teams value is good. Veteran experience in the system to push the younger players is good. Cheap is good.

    I’m just worried that nobody seems to think it would be good if he actually had to step up and start.

  7. Dan says:

    There’s one way to look at this: He’s here to try and make the team…60% odds I’d say that he makes it, and he’ll have to play well; and he’ll be cheap….depth move…that’s it. We know he’s not a good starting safety…that’s been established. There’s a good chance he doesn’t even make the opening day roster, so let it play out.

  8. Dan Sullivan says:

    Patriot Predictions

    Free Agent
    Paris Lenon LB Broncos

    1 Trade for 2,4 and 4th round picks.
    2 Ed Stinson DL Alabama
    2 Kelcy Quarles DL South Carolina
    3 Anthony Steen G Alabama
    4 Xavier Gimble TE USC
    4 Jarvis Landry WR LSU
    4 Joel Bitanio OL Nevada
    4 Rashaad Reynolds CB Oregon St.
    6 Blake Annen TE Cincinnati
    6 Devon Kennard LB USC
    7 Demetrius Wright S USC

  9. Bill Vermont says:

    If Harmon was a special teams guy last year, he won’t be if he starts, and Chung will be a known quantity, cheap, tough, and limited. I don’t how good he is or they think he will be, but another safety/CB will be drafted. there’s apparently 30+ CB/S that could be drafted this year

    • MaineMan says:

      30 DBs in the 2014 draft would be extremely low. The ten year average is 50.5 (the .5 was probably Wilhite). Over the past five drafts, the average is 53. And that doesn’t include DBs signed as UDFAs which probably adds 30 or 40 more.

  10. acm says:

    Seems OL Brandon Thomas – one of the better prospects at OG this year – has torn his ACL. He was expected to go in the 2nd round; will probably drop to 5/6th now.

  11. Justin says:

    With the new found depth at cornerback (Revis, Browner, Dennard, Arrington, and Ryan) I expect the Patriots to seldom use 2 deep safeties. That’s a perfect case scenario for Chung. He was a liability when asked to play deep and has always been more effective when he can play closer to the line of scrimmage.

    Granted, he’s going to have to fight for a roster spot, Chung is an aggressive and hard-nosed player who brings special teams value and feels he has something to prove, not to mention he signed an inexpensive contract. I expect Belichick to address the strong safety position in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, guys like Ahmad Dixon, Dion Bailey, Isaiah Lewis, Dezmen Southward, Ty Zimmerman all warrant looks. I for one would love to see Dixon in a Pats uni, he has a linebacker-like mentality.

    • Maui Joe says:

      Agree completely. Chung could flourish in this D. BB was once quoted for saying he was the most athletic player on the roster.

  12. Fred says:

    Hes a good depth/ST guy not a lock for the 53 but can get some valuable snaps as a gunner with slater. I still think saftey will be one of our 4th round picks

  13. PSW says:

    Chung is insurance against not getting a safety in the draft, this will allow the Pats to focus on other needs first. Look for D-line, LB, and O-line to get priority in round 1. If some one good for filling one of these 3 needs (like Nix or Martin) falls to 29 then don’t expect the usual trade out of round 1. This does means fewer picks to fill the rest of the team’s needs, making that insurance policy more important. TE (Niklas/Feid) or which ever one didn’t get fixed in round one gets the second round pick. Then best man for biggest need, that compensatory 4th rounder gets really big if the 1st round pick is kept. Fortunately the draft is deep enough for five contributors to come out of rounds 1 through 4. Any secondary players will probably be late day three picks.

  14. Jim R says:

    Cheap depth

    • Matt says:

      Do you think they will pick up a better safety in the draft? I hope they do.

    • Matty says:

      I’m glad Gregory is gone. I think Chung will be special-teamer and 3rd string SS. Starter will be either Harmon or a rookie. Either ebner or Wilson will be cut.

    • JB says:

      Chung has shown to be a fairly awful starter at ss but does have serious skills on special teams. He is cheaper than Adrian Wilson was and also figures to be a core special teams guy.

    • acm says:

      with emphasis on “cheap”.

  15. Cai Perryclear says:

    The difference was the money… as usual here in NE. Kraft wasn’t willing to offer a 4th year player with injury history 10M over three years so he allowed CHUNG to walk. The decision was strictly business. Now Coach Bill gets his first round pick back at a discount after CHUNG proved he was not worth the money PHILI gave him. A 1 yr – 800K deal is a very manageable contract for a situational/special teams player considering the big money the pats shelled out to land REVIS and BROWNER. This is a good deal and solidifies an already stout secondary.

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