Patriots stepped up at last moment to retain safety Devin McCourty

This is how close it came to safety Devin McCourty not returning to the New England Patriots: As the negotiating process was winding down Sunday, McCourty and head coach Bill Belichick had a phone conversation in which McCourty thanked him for a great five years with the franchise.

Unfortunately, McCourty told him, it looked like he was ready to move on. The Eagles, Giants and Jaguars were the teams making the strongest push, with the Titans also in the mix, and there was a deal with another team that McCourty was ready to accept.

It was at that point that Belichick and the Patriots stepped up to levels they hadn't reached in the process. Their final offer of five years and $47.5 million, with $28.5 million in total guarantees (a record number of guarantees for a safety), swayed McCourty's decision at the last moment.

He was coming back to the Patriots.

This is the fine line of contract negotiations, when things can twist and turn in an instant. Deadlines -- and the reality of losing a player -- can spark a team to extend beyond what it previously had shown a willingness to do and well beyond its initial offer.

As it turns out, the Patriots' offer wasn't even the richest McCourty was considering, but it was enough to have him agree to terms, because staying in New England was his first choice if things were close enough.

McCourty's $9.5 million per year average ranks him as the second-highest paid safety in the NFL, with the figures coming in higher than our projected contract for him. This reflects a robust market for McCourty and how serious the other suitors were in their pursuit. It also reflects how the Patriots stepped up to make sure one of their own wouldn't get away by rewarding him with a very strong deal.

With McCourty in the fold, the focus now turns to cornerback Darrelle Revis.

This deal, coming together at the last moment, when McCourty made it clear he was ready to move on, shouldn't prohibit the Patriots from making a strong push to also retain Revis.