In December 2017, the NFL announced the 88 participants of the season's Pro Bowl. Four members of the AFC's squad were with the New England Patriots as quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, fullback James Develin and special teamer Matthew Slater all earned Pro Bowl honors after a vote by fans, players and coaches. The team could have had two more players participate in the game, though.
As ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss notes in his Sunday NFL quick-hit thoughts, two more members of the Patriots were named as alternates at their respective positions: Offensive tackle Nate Solder and safety Devin McCourty would have been the first men up for the game if not for New England reaching the Super Bowl.
Solder, who had previously not been selected to a Pro Bowl in his seven-year career, was the first alternate at tackle behind starters Taylor Lewan (Tennessee Titans) and Alejandro Villanueva (Pittsburgh Steelers) as well as reserve Donald Penn (Oakland Raiders). With Penn dealing with an injury, the Los Angeles Chargers' Russell Okung took his spot – one that would have gone to the Patriots' left tackle if not for the Super Bowl.
Like Solder, McCourty was also named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate but unable to participate in the exhibition contest. The team captain, who was voted to the Pro Bowl twice before, was the fourth choice behind Eric Weddle (Baltimore Ravens), Reshad Jones (Miami Dolphins) and Micah Hyde (Buffalo Bills). Hyde was ultimately replaced by Kevin Byard (Tennessee Titans) but the honor would have gone to McCourty.
Like six of his teammates, Solder had a contract bonus tied to making the Pro Bowl. With him being named a replacement, however, the 29-year old was not eligible to collect the $500,000 check.