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Analysis: Patriots Place Transition Tag on Standout Safety Kyle Dugger 

The Patriots have placed the transition tag on Dugger, giving the club the right to match any offer to Dugger in free agency. 

Patriots defensive back Kyle Dugger (23).
Patriots defensive back Kyle Dugger (23).

The Patriots have made their first major move of the offseason by placing the transition tag on standout safety Kyle Dugger.

New England had until Tuesday's 4 pm ET deadline to decide on using either the franchise or transition tag, opting for the lower tag to maintain team control. With the transition tag, the Patriots now have the right to match any contract offer to Dugger in free agency. Dugger is free to look for the best offer on the open market, while the Patriots can then match any offer he signs to retain him. New England won't receive any compensation for Dugger if they don't match a contract offer. 

If Dugger plays on the one-year transition tag next season, he will cost $13.8 million against the 2024 salary cap, while the two sides can continue negotiating a long-term contract. The full franchise tag would've cost roughly $17 million.

The other housekeeping item is that only one of the franchise or transition tags can be used per offseason, so versatile OL Mike Onwenu won't be tagged. Onwenu is now likely headed to the open market, with the free agency tampering window beginning on March 11.

As for Dugger, Patriots de facto general manager Eliot Wolf referred to Dugger and Onwenu as "core" players the new regime would like to build around. Head coach Jerod Mayo also issues the following statement with today's news: 

"Kyle is a talented player with a strong work ethic who has improved every year and been extremely productive since joining our team in 2020," said Mayo. "We value players with high character and chose to use the transition designation to give both sides more time to try to reach a long-term agreement, which is our goal with Kyle."

After being selected 37th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, Dugger has blossomed into an impact player in the Patriots secondary. Along with registering nine career interceptions, Dugger's ability to play on all three levels of the defense makes him one of the league's most versatile defenders. Dugger wears multiple hats with snaps logged in the box, at free safety, slot corner, wide corner, and on the line of scrimmage. He's a highly effective run defender who made 12 run stops in 2024. Dugger also accumulated two sacks and 15 quarterback pressures as a blitzer.

Taking it a step further, Dugger may be asked to fit on the ball in the run game from the box, serve as a force defender as an overhang/slot, play centerfield or split-safety zone in the deep part of the field, rotate into the short zone distribution as a robber/hook defender, play man-to-man coverage, or blitz the quarterback on any given Sunday – it's not easy to replace that kind of versatility.

The one knock on Dugger is that he could be a more consistent coverage player, particularly in man-to-man against top tight ends or when asked to cover in space. Dugger had to take on more of those roles last season due to the retirement of longtime captain Devin McCourty. With a more permanent free safety in the future, the coaching staff may be able to manage Dugger's coverage responsibilities better.

Ultimately, the transition tag allows the Patriots to avoid bidding against themselves to keep Dugger long term. According to reports, the Patriots have been in talks with Dugger's camp on a long-term extension. Using the transition tag allows the market to dictate his value without as much risk of losing the player in unrestricted free agency.

New England took a step toward retaining one of its core contributors on defense by using the transition tag on Dugger, who will hopefully be a Patriot for years to come.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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