10-year Patriots veteran says he’s optimistic several teammates already provide guidance for young players
Roster turnover is inevitable in the NFL. Every offseason, players come and go, so it should not be a surprise that the Patriots have lost a handful of free agents this offseason.
Unlike most years, however, the Patriots lost the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. On top of that, they lost the second-most-tenured player on the team in kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Then, from the defense, top pass-rushers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins are gone, and leaders like captain Elandon Roberts and former captain Duron Harmon have found new teams.
The Patriots were hit hard this offseason, losing several key contributors, veterans and leaders from their locker room. It’s a good thing they re-signed players such as safety Devin McCourty and receiver and special-teams captain Matthew Slater. McCourty said on a conference call Wednesday that he expected other Patriots players to step up this season. After all, roster turnover is inevitable and he’s seen a lot of players exit Foxboro over the last 10 years.
“What happens on teams naturally is guys step up and become new leaders,” McCourty said. “I think about the team when Vince [Wilfork] left, then [Jerod] Mayo left, Logan Mankins left. I remember being one of those guys looking around saying, ’Man, that’s a lot of our leadership gone,’ and next thing you know, I’m one of the leaders on the team. I think that will naturally happen for guys. Me, as a leader, I can’t go up to a guy, ’Hey, you’re a leader now.’ Guys naturally step into new roles.”
McCourty indentified a handful of his teammates who will continue to lead. Players such as Slater, Patrick Chung and Julian Edelman have been in New England for 10-plus seasons. He also said he tells younger players that James White is someone they should emulate because of his work ethic. So, the Patriots have pieces in place as they try to move on from the veterans they lost. There’s no denying, however, the high level of talent that has departed from Foxboro this month.
When Brady signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay, McCourty started to see it on Twitter — people were already doubting the Patriots. He said users were commenting with with insults. McCourty might be used to people attacking the Patriots online, but with Brady gone, there’s more doubt aimed at this 2020 Patriots team. He said, however, that the goal remains the same.
“My goal’s always win as many games as possible. I don’t think we ever come into a season and talk ‘Super Bowl, Super Bowl, Super Bowl,’ ” McCourty said. “It’s about improvement and winning games along the way as you improve. That will stay the same. Especially now, you’ll be on Twitter and I’ll see people tweet at me, ‘Enjoy what you guys have — it’s over. You guys won’t win a game.’ I think that’s natural.”
McCourty said he’s excited for the younger players and players who were injured last year who will get chances to step up in 2020. Players returning from the injured reserve include center David Andrews, tackle Yodny Cajuste, guard Hjalte Froholdt, receiver Gunner Olszewski and defensive end Derek Rivers. Then there are younger players such as N’Keal Harry, Chase Winovich, Byron Cowart, JoeJuan Williams and, of course, quarterback Jarrett Stidham who could all see more important roles next season.
The questions about the post-Brady era will continue. That’s what happens when you lose a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. Overall, McCourty remains positive about his team’s future.
“I’m excited. I think we have a great group of guys just in the locker room. I think it’s been like that for years,” McCourty said. “Obviously, we had probably the greatest football player ever on our team, so I think people really didn’t look at the leadership and different guys we had in the locker room. Everyone is kind of like, ‘What’s going to happen? Everything’s brand new.’
“But I don’t really see it like that. I see it as a continuance of what we’ve been doing and guys assuming the same leadership roles. I look at myself, Slater, Chung, Jules — those guys have been there 10-plus years, so we just have to continue doing what we’ve been doing.”
On Twitter: @MarkDanielsPJ