The New England Patriots needed to replace their captains from 2015. Ryan Wendell and Jerod Mayo are no longer with the team, while Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich are both suspended for the first four games of the season. This left Nate Solder, Devin McCourty, and Matthew Slater as the only returning captains for week 1 of the regular season.
ESPN’s Field Yates has the scoop on the Patriots captains for 2016:
Patriots captains as voted on by team today & told to team after practice: Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, Dont'a Hightower.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 6, 2016
Safety Devin McCourty and special teams ace Matthew Slater are returning as captains for the sixth straight season. They were both promoted to the roles in 2011.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski and linebacker Dont’a Hightower will be captains for the first times in their careers.
Gronkowski has been a team leader on and off the field and has the respect of his peers and his coaches. He’s an excellent choice as he starts his 7th season in the NFL.
Hightower had been given Mayo’s old locker, which is typically reserved for team leaders, so this promotion had been telegraphed for months.
Congratulations to these four players.
It is interesting to note that Brady and Ninkovich are not captains, although it’s possible they will retain the titles when they return from their suspensions.
Brady had been a team captain since 2002, or 14-straight seasons. It would be an absolute shock if he were not given the title this year.
Ninkovich’s role as a captain is less of a lock since his suspension, unlike Brady’s, is based in reality.
Left tackle Nate Solder served as captain for the 2015 season, but it appears he no longer has that title. An offensive lineman typically serves as a captain, so perhaps Gronkowski is assuming a larger role, or the coaching staff is waiting for a player to step up.