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The Patriots Lose Patrick Chung, but Kyle Van Noy is Back. And So is the NFL's No. 1 Defense

I was hoping to start Day 2 of official Free Agency with nothing but good news. But then Patrick Chung announced his retirement. Which happens to be very excellent news for him and his family. By its nature, pro football treats players like the Empire treats Stormtroopers. And any time someone can walk away of his own volition after over a decade in the game, with his health intact and three rings in his safety deposit box, that's a pure good. I won't mitigate it. Chung is a loss that will be felt, for sure. But he'd have turned 34 in the middle of training camp and just skipped a year on a Covid opt out. So on the Shocking Retirement Scale, this is hardly King Edward abdicating the throne. Instead it's one of those "Don't weep because he's gone, smile because he was here" moments. He'll be missed. 

As far as the other news? If the lesson of every "Twilight Zone" that begins with someone going into a creepy magic shop is to be believed, you have to be careful what you wish for. That's not just a fictional point or even good advice, it's an implied threat. That monkey paw never gives you what you want unless it does so ironically and makes you regret it. But that's not the case in New England in March of 2021. Rub the Gillette lighthouse and the little genie with the cut off sleeves will grant your every wish and there is no downside. 

Personally? I asked for Hunter Henry. Granted. I asked for Jonnu Smith. Granted. I asked for Matt Judon. Granted. And I asked for Kyle Van Noy. 

From last week:

I mean, this is the no-braineriest of all no-brainers. A perfect marriage. A guy who knows the system forwards and backwards. Who thrived in it last year in Miami after being reunited with Brian Flores. Who's coming off a season where he posted career highs in passes defensed and tackles for loss and was just 0.5 sacks off his career best. To be clear, the Dolphins are releasing him to free up cap money, not for performance reasons. If he'd been on the roster five days into the league year that begins on March 17th, he would've had $12.5 million guaranteed in 2021.

The Patriots, in turn, would be getting back a plug-and-play veteran, a Day One starter along with Dont'a Hightower and Pat Chung [Author's note: Ouch]. All leaders who would take the pressure off promising young guys like Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, Kyle Dugger and Anfernee Jennings, thus helping their development. And further reinforce a defense that was 10th in the league last year after being No. 1 in 2019. Before losing all those key veterans.

So doing the math, that makes Van Noy-to-Foxboro … a what? A win/win/win/win/win move? I've lost count myself. All I know is this has already taken longer than it should. This guy has already been one of the best trades of the Belichick Era. Let's make it even better by getting him back for the low, low price of nothing. 

Also granted. Long live GM Bill. 

Van Noy is an incredible addition to a Front-7 that suffered a severe drop off from year-to-year without him, Chung, Hightower and Danny Shelton. The above mentioned rookies were thrown into the fire before they were ready in after a SparkNotes offseason. Younger guys like Winovich and Ju'Whaun Bentley were given bigger roles out of necessity. And as a result the defense was above average but still lacking. What Van Noy brings back with him is exactly what this unit needs. Someone at the first and second levels who is versatile, athletic and who fits into the system like a puzzle piece. He can play run & chase from sideline to sideline. He can blitz from all over the formation. And has the biggest prerequisite for the job, which is not only knowing his assignment from play to play, but the other 10 guys as well. Something he proved over three-plus seasons in Foxboro in which he went to three Super Bowls and won two. 

And as has happened at times in the past, former Patriots who return do as well, if not better, in their sequel careers. Chung being the prime example. He was twice the player after returning from one year in Philly. The 2010 offense improved immeasurably after Deion Branch was brought back to replace Randy Moss. Jamie Collins 2.0 was a major upgrade from beta Jamie Collins. For half a season anyway. It happens. And since Van Noy spent last year playing in the exact same system and playing well, there's no reason to expect a drop off. 

Which brings me, at last, to my premise: With the addition of Van Noy, Steve Belichick's defense has everything it needs to be as good, if not better, than the one that led the league in 2019. And that won the Super Bowl with the best performance of team defense in the history of the game the season before. I'm saying this presuming that Hightower is back and Stephon Gilmore is still with them. 

The sting of losing Chung is mitigated by Adrian Phillips. In his first season in New England stepping into Chung's exact role of every down strong safety in their base Nickel, Phillips was third on the defense in total snaps, led them in tackles and assists, and his passer rating when targeted was lower than every other defensive back with the exception of JC Jackson. (Who, by the way, is also back on a free agent tender.) Add Dugger, who showed a rare combination of toughness in the run game and speed/athleticsim for a rookie out of DII, into that hybrid safety/LB mix, and they can more than make up for Chung choosing that Early Bird Special life. 

One of the major things they could not make up for last year was the loss of Van Noy. Now they don't have to. Belichick is putting the 2018 band back together, to go along with his promising class of rookie defenders and additions like Judon, Davon Godchaux and a super-versatile all-purpose DB in Jalen Mills. Plus, on the other side of the ball, Trent Brown and Ted Karras. 

I'm far from done with these wishes. But the one where I wanted the defense to return to its former glory seems to be taken care of. I cannot wait to see how good this unit is going to be with Van Noy back. And it doesn't hurt at all that for some goddamned reason the old school Boston media inexplicably hates this guy. 

Fans love him. His teammates love him. His coach loves him. And the press hates him. That is yet another win/win/win/win. Godspeed, Patrick Chung. Welcome back, KVN.