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What Jason McCourty signing means for Miami Dolphins

Signing cornerback Jason McCourty may prove to be a bigger move than meets the eye for the Miami Dolphins.

The Miami Dolphins signed veteran cornerback Jason McCourty on Thursday, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, which gives the team another key leader in its secondary.

McCourty is obviously familiar with the system since Dolphins head coach Brian Flores was on the New England Patriots’ staff before landing the Miami gig.

A reported one-year deal gives the Fins financial flexibility in the coming years, and also provides McCourty a chance to extend his career after New England opted not to re-sign him in free agency.

Along with his twin brother Devin, McCourty was a team captain for the Patriots in 2020, and could very well earn that role in Miami as well.

Despite the fact that the Dolphins have a relatively experienced secondary with proven players like Byron Jones and Xavien Howard, McCourty brings a strong leadership dimension that the unit now lacks after releasing starting safety and captain Bobby McCain earlier on Thursday.

Miami Dolphins’ secondary even more versatile with Jason McCourty

Miami Dolphins' secondary even more versatile with Jason McCourty
Sep 13, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches from the sideline as they take on the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Because general manager Chris Grier has collected so many assets in terms of draft capital, it’s freed up the chance to acquire proven veterans and also take chances on young prospects with lots of upside. Inevitably, not all of these picks are going to work out.

Signing McCourty, selecting Oregon defensive back Jevon Holland early in Round 2 of the draft this year and cutting McCain suggests a considerable shakeup is coming to the Dolphins’ defensive backfield.

Clock ticking on Noah Igbinoghene after Jason McCourty signing

This can be a little risky, because Miami’s defense was a huge reason why the team posted a 10-win campaign last year. Howard was one of the elite corners in all of football, but Jones’ down season and the underwhelming effort from 2020 first-rounder Noah Igbinoghene was a disappointment.

Since Igbinoghene posted a woeful 38.8 Pro Football Focus grade on 188 coverage snaps — which would’ve been seventh-worst in the NFL if he’d played enough snaps to qualify — and he’s almost exclusively an outside corner, it seems as though he’s been put on notice.

Jevon Holland may start at safety, or Jason McCourty could switch positions

Jevon Holland may start at safety, or Jason McCourty could switch positions
Oct 26, 2019; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks safety Jevon Holland (8) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass for a touchdown during the first half against the Washington State Cougars at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Howard and Jones have established themselves as strong players on the perimeter, but McCourty, with the exception of 2020, has proven himself there as well. Holland played all over the secondary in college, at free safety, in the box and more prominently at slot cornerback toward the end of his NCAA career.

The assumption is Holland moves to safety to fill the void left by McCain, unless McCourty makes the full-time position change at this late stage of his football days. It wouldn’t be crazy, since he’s so familiar with Flores’ scheme, and because his twin brother is the perfect mentor to help him through that transition as a perennial All-Pro for the Patriots.

That’d free up Holland to play more in the slot, a role he relished in college. The fact that Holland has such versatility can enhance the Dolphins’ disguises on defense. Worth noting, too, though: McCourty’s 2020 snap count was as follows: 401 out wide, 112 as slot cornerback, 100 in the box and 46 at free safety. He has at least some experience there already.

In any event, McCourty opens up the playbook more for Flores and his staff to deploy a variety of coverages, and a lockdown stud like Howard can even shadow a shifty slot receiver in man-to-man if someone like McCourty can hold his own on the outside.

This may be an overlooked signing, and some may view McCourty as too far past his prime to make a true difference, considering he turns 34 in August. However, this is one of the more underrated, second-wave moves of free agency, and again, sends a message to Igbinoghene that his roster spot isn’t necessarily safe despite his gaudy draft status.

Between bringing in McCourty, along with Holland and pass-rusher Jaelan Phillips in the draft, look for Miami’s defense to make even more strides in 2021. If sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa can make similar progress with an improved supporting cast around him, these Dolphins should have another double-digit win total at the very least.

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