Patriots market watch: Devin McCourty

Projecting the financial market for some of the New England Patriots' top free agents:

Player: Devin McCourty

Position: Safety

Age: 27 (birthday: August 13, 1987)

Credentials: Team captain who has played all but three games over the first five seasons. Willing tackler with solid range who plays a central role in the communication on the back end. Has flexibility to move down to corner, where he played early in his career. Top-notch locker-room guy who has consistently put the team first (e.g. position switch to safety). Will occasionally take a bad angle (example versus Packers on Nov. 30) but overall plays the center-field role at a high level.

Assessing the market: Seattle's Earl Thomas sets the standard at safety, with his deal averaging $10 million per season. He signed that pact in 2014, adding four years to the end of his existing deal, and it included $25.7 million in bonuses and guarantees. The Saints signed Jairus Byrd to a free-agent deal in 2014 that averaged $9 million per season and included $26.3 million in bonuses and guarantees; that looks like an overpay situation at this point, but it still shapes the market. Eric Berry (Chiefs, $8.3 million per season, rookie deal signed in 2010), Dashon Goldson (Buccaneers, $8.25 million per season, $17.5 million in bonuses/guarantees, signed in 2013), and Eric Weddle (Chargers, $8 million per season, $19 million in bonuses/guarantees, signed in 2011) round out the top five. McCourty's brother, Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, signed an extension in 2012 that averages $8.6 million per season and included $17 million in bonuses/guarantees.

Our take on McCourty's value: Entering his prime years, he's in a position of strength. Furthermore, in a year where the draft class is weak at safety, and the free-agent class isn't deep, McCourty is easily the top-rated player at the position. This increases the likelihood, from this viewpoint, that the club would be more inclined to assign the franchise tag (estimated at $9.5 million) to him in the event the sides couldn't hammer out an extension. McCourty is a unique player when it comes to assessing his value because of his corner-safety combo skills. Those are really two different financial markets. Thus, it might require some creativity as there isn't a clear-cut comparable.

Projected contract: Five years, $45 million ($10 million signing bonus, with additional $12 million in guaranteed base salaries)