Will Patriots use franchise tag on free agent Kyle Dugger?

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Dugger's deal: The last player who was drafted by the Patriots in the first three rounds and signed a contract extension with the team is 2013 third-round safety Duron Harmon. That reflects the Patriots' shaky run of early-round drafting.

But that likely will change soon, because 2020 second-round picks safety Kyle Dugger and linebacker Josh Uche, 2020 third-round linebacker Anfernee Jennings and 2021 second-round nose tackle Christian Barmore are all worthy candidates for an extension -- and the Patriots, according to first-year coach Jerod Mayo, are prepared to "burn some cash."

Of the group, Dugger is most timely to highlight with the NFL's window to assign the franchise tag opening Tuesday.

Giving Dugger the tag, which is estimated to be around $16 million for safeties, could potentially buy the sides more time to work on an extension while also helping the Patriots retain negotiating leverage with one of their top unrestricted free agents.

This will be one of the first pressing decisions for director of scouting Eliot Wolf, who is taking on more responsibility in the team's revamped front office setup, following the departure of Bill Belichick after 24 seasons.

"It will be interesting because historically the team has preferred to avoid using the franchise tag in hopes of continuing to make the overall roster better. So now we'll see what they do in the new era in New England," said NBC "Football Night In America" analyst Devin McCourty, the former Patriots safety.

Wolf came up through the Packers' organization, which in recent years has seldom assigned the franchise tag. But Wolf's father, former Packers general manager Ron Wolf, did utilize it in back-to-back years with running back Dorsey Levens (1998) and receiver Antonio Freeman (1999).

As for Dugger, he played 97% of the defensive snaps last season and totaled 107 tackles (a team-high 70 solo). He is ranked 25th among 2024 free agents by ESPN's Matt Bowen and the second safety behind Tampa Bay's Antoine Winfield Jr. (10th overall). Last year's top free agent safety, Jessie Bates II, signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

"I remember a coach told me that the goal for any great player is to be consistent and then have those other plays you make that not many people can make," said McCourty, who sees similarities between Dugger and former Patriots safety Patrick Chung. "I would put Dugger up there with some of the top players when it comes to making plays that you say, 'How the hell did he just do that?' I think that is what is great about his game.

"The second part is physicality. A couple of seasons ago, he might be waiting for a tight end who was chipping, and receivers like Amon-Ra St. Brown or Garrett Wilson would run a route next to him, so he jumps out and hits them with his shoulder and they go flying. Or when he comes downhill and hits linemen and knocks them on their butts. He has that ability to be as good as any safety in the NFL doing that."

How the Patriots plan to utilize Dugger under new defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington will likely factor into the team's decision-making process in negotiations. Fellow hard-hitting safety Jabrill Peppers, who is signed through the 2024 season and scheduled to earn a base salary of $3.18 million, has a similar skill set. Peppers' growing role last season led to Dugger playing further away from the line of scrimmage.

"I thought it was harder for him [in 2023] to showcase that physicality being away from the line of scrimmage a little more," said McCourty, who played three seasons with Dugger.

"When he came in as a rookie, I would say overall you walked away at that point and said, 'They may have found a foundational piece. This should be good for the team,'" he added.

"I think sometimes you hope those deals get done sooner than later, and the way I always approached it is that if I had to play every snap and assume all the risk, I'm not going to cut myself short [as a player]. I'm going to use all the leverage I have to get the best deal I can possibly get."

2. Big staff: The Patriots are expected to announce their coaching staff early this week and one of the headline themes is expected to be volume. Belichick traditionally had one of the NFL's smallest coaching staffs, partly because he wanted to ensure there were no mixed messages. In contrast, Mayo is expected to have a significantly larger staff, which is somewhat tied to the desire to integrate ideas and perspectives from those who have coached elsewhere -- and is also perhaps a nod to how rare Belichick was in terms of having the knack to handle so many responsibilities himself.

3. Mayo's leadership: Mayo hosted a Q&A session with members of the organization last week, giving him a chance to get to know and understand those who connect to the team in various ways (e.g., marketing, ticketing, etc.). It was another reminder of the changing of the guard, with Mayo maybe tapping into his prior experience working in business at Optum as he takes initial steps to create a unified environment through all levels of the organization.

4. Strength change: Mayo said in his introductory news conference, "I think the weight room is one of the most important areas in the building to evaluate the people you have on your team." Along those lines, it won't be a surprise if Mayo's brother, Deron, is elevated to a leading coaching role after serving as a strength and conditioning assistant the past six seasons. Moses Cabrera, who has been the head strength and conditioning coach the past eight seasons, is not expected to return.

5. Wilkins intel: Drew Wilkins, who has been hired as a linebackers coach alongside Dont'a Hightower, had interviewed for the University of Washington defensive coordinator job that ultimately went to former Patriots linebackers coach Steve Belichick. So when Steve Belichick departed, it opened the door for Wilkins, who came up through the Ravens' system and has a reputation for drawing up effective blitz schemes.

6. O'Brien's appreciation: Former New England offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien's introduction as Boston College head coach Thursday had a few notable Patriots themes, with O'Brien saying: "I want to thank Bill Belichick for all that he has done for my career. I will never be able to repay Bill. And I'd like to thank Robert and Jonathan Kraft for all their support over the years; that has meant a lot to me." Former Patriots center Dan Koppen, the BC alum who has settled with his family in Rhode Island, was among those in attendance.

7. 'Dynasty' preview: The first two parts of the documentary "The Dynasty" were released on Apple TV last week, which focused on 2001, Tom Brady's modest beginnings, and how Brady replaced the injured Drew Bledsoe. That sets the stage for the next two parts of the documentary, one of which focuses on Spygate, a topic that former Patriots football research director Ernie Adams seemed to want to avoid by saying at one point: "It's going to the grave with me a little bit." The episode also introduces fans to current executive vice president of football business/senior adviser to the head coach Robyn Glaser and her initial work with the organization as a liaison to the NFL.

8. They said it: "There's a $100 million quarterback doing what's best for the team. That's where I think the 'Patriots Way' started." -- Tedy Bruschi, in the upcoming episode 3 of "The Dynasty," referencing Bledsoe and his viewpoint of how Bledsoe handled losing his job to Brady and what it meant to him as a teammate

9. Thanks, Jimmy: Players saluted longtime video director Jimmy Dee, who has shot more than 600 Patriots games, including 49 postseason games, which is the most by any NFL video director in the past 30 years. Dee's last day before retiring was Wednesday, which led ninth-year long-snapper Joe Cardona to say: "We can't accomplish anything on the field without the support staff. He has seen so many players come and go throughout his career and has had a part in each and every one of their stories. He takes pride in being from here, and you listen to his stories, which go back to [coach Bill] Parcells, and you appreciate the wealth of knowledge and experience."

10. Did you know? According to Elias, the Chiefs became just the third team in Super Bowl history to win without running an offensive play with the lead, joining the Patriots (LI vs. the Falcons) and Colts (V vs. the Cowboys).