In a five year career, Devin McCourty has been an All Pro at two different positions. After starting his career as a cornerback, McCourty was moved to free safety and was an important part of one of the NFL's best secondaries in 2014.
McCourty primarily handled the deep safety role in the middle of the field. He was only lined up in the box 15.7% of the time according to PFF, one of the lowest rates in the league for a safety getting regular playing time.. Anybody who watched the Jets in 2014 and the rookie struggles of Calvin Pryor can likely appreciate how important the deep role is. He's the last line of defense. He needs to be there to save the day in case something bad happens. This player is the last line of defense. Think about all of the long touchdowns that were aided by Pryor missing his assignment.
SB Nation's Danny Kelly wrote a superlative piece on McCourty's role within the New England defense before the Super Bowl. I encourage you to read it, but one thing really stuck out to me.
When you're playing single-high looks on defense, obviously that's a lot of ground to cover if you're the free safety. Nonetheless, McCourty, who started out his career as a corner, has the speed and play-recognition talent to make it work. In fact, during the 2014 season, opposing offenses only attempted 15 passes to the deep middle of the field on McCourty and other Patriot safeties -- good for sixth best in the NFL -- and only nine were completed
Preventing big plays is important, discouraging the opponent from even attempting them is key to this. Just put yourself in the position of a quarterback wherever you are sitting. Where is it usually going to be easier to throw deep? Will it be easier right in front of you or to one of your sides? I'm guessing you said right in front of you. It's also usually easier for receivers to find open space in the middle of the field. On the outside, defenders can use the sideline to help defend against you.
Having the kind of safety with the range and instincts to take away those attempts can be an enormous asset for a defense. At some point offenses can simply become intimidated just by knowing there is a top safety roaming the middle of the field and be less apt to attempt deep passes. Just knowing a safety has great range, they might think a pass is risky to a receiver who looks open because that safety can recover.
It is also worth noting that as a former cornerback, McCourty can be utilized in the slot. New England did not do this often in 2014, but in 59 snaps McCourty was only beaten for 4 receptions and 61 yards. Those rates would in terms of receptions and yards allowed per snap would rate near the top of the league for slot corners.
I think McCourty would make a really good fit for the Jets. Calvin Pryor is likely to be starting in 2015. If it is going to work out for Pryor (and it's very unclear whether things are going to work out for Pryor), I think he needs to be freed from the responsibility of being the deep guy. He needs more latitude to roam and use his range to make plays without needing to worry about being burned as the last line of defense. A McCourty-Pryor tandem would likely be vulnerable against tight ends. Pryor is not a strong cover guy, and McCourty at just 5'10" would be at a size disadvantage, but I do think the potential would be there for a really strong safety pairing. McCourty is a definite candidate for the franchise tag, but if he is not franchised, I think he makes a lot of sense for the Jets to target.
For money, I think the Eric Weddle contract range could make some sense for a ballpark figure.