On Sunday, the New England Patriots captured the AFC East for a tenth year in a row. For much of the organization is, winning the division is almost routine by now: core players like tight end Rob Gronkowski, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Devin McCourty have earned championship hats and t-shirts every single year they have been in New England.
Others however, have not been that fortunate in the past. In total, 21 of 74 players currently on the Patriots’ pay roll (28.4%) have never won a division title in the NFL — with six of which being veteran players. Let’s take a look at those who for the first time in their pro careers can call themselves champions, if only when it comes to winning the AFC East:
The Patriots currently have four rookies on their 53-man roster and they start their careers well by winning a division title in their first year with the club. They are joined by four veterans as players in the first time winners club: Trent Brown spent the first three years of his pro career with the San Francisco 49ers that went 13-35 over this time span. Mid-season acquisition Obi Melifonwu entered the NFL with the Oakland Raiders in 2017.
Danny Shelton won only four of a possible 48 games between 2015 and 2017, while Jason McCourty — who was with the defensive tackle on the winless 2017 Cleveland Browns — failed to reach the playoffs let alone win a division over his first nine years in the league. His twin brother Devin, meanwhile, won eight AFC East titles and two Super Bowls since he joined the Patriots in 2010.
While most of the players on the practice squad are either rookies or were already division winners in a previous year, linebacker Calvin Munson is neither. He entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie signing by the New York Giants in 2017 and went 3-13 in his first season. Munson joined the Patriots’ practice squad in early October and not even three months later has earned his first hat and t-shirt.
The players on the Patriots’ inactives lists are predominately rookies or players that have already won division titles in the past (some with in New England, some elsewhere). Brian Schwenke, who was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury in early November, is not among them: over his first five years in the NFL — which he spent with the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts — he never was part of a division-winning team.