The New England Patriots have one of the most experienced rosters in the league, not just because the team plays deep into the playoffs every year. The reigning world champions also currently have a league-high 15 players over the age of 30 under contract, with a majority of them either playing key roles on the team or expected to contribute as important rotational pieces in 2019.
The players in question are as follows:
QB Tom Brady (41), TE Benjamin Watson (38), K Stephen Gostkowski (35), WR Matthew Slater (33), QB Brian Hoyer (33), WR Julian Edelman (33), DE Michael Bennett (33), WR Demaryius Thomas (31), CB Jason McCourty (31), FS Devin McCourty (31), SS Patrick Chung (31), OT Marcus Cannon (31), WR Dontrelle Inman (30), SS Nate Ebner (30), FB James Develin (30)
While the list does include roster bubble players like Demaryius Thomas and Dontrelle Inman, the majority of the Patriots over the age of 30 are starting-caliber contributors — and leaders both on and off the field. It is therefore imperative for the team to find replacements in the near future, either by looking at the players currently already employed in New England or through the draft and other avenues.
Let’s take a step further, therefore, to shine a light on how a possible succession plan might currently look like.
QB Tom Brady (41): Despite being the NFL’s oldest non-kicker, Brady is still a master of his craft and in the conversation for the league’s best quarterback. This is good news for New England, considering that the team does not have a clear successor on its roster yet. While Jarrett Stidham (22) could turn out to be just that, the jury is still out on the 2019 fourth-round draft choice.
TE Benjamin Watson (38): Watson will start the season suspended, which will give us a chance to see more of the Patriots’ tight end depth chart. The club does have some young talent at the now Rob Gronkowski-less position in Austin Seferian-Jenkins (26), Matt LaCosse (26) and Ryan Izzo (23). They will fill Watson’s yet to be defined role early in 2019, and possibly beyond.
K Stephen Gostkowski (35): The Patriots re-signed the free agent this offseason on a two-year contract, which means that they do not yet have to worry about replacing him. That being said, it would not be a surprise to see the team bring in some competition and a potential heir next offseason.
WR Matthew Slater (33): Entering the final year of his contract, Slater is still among the NFL’s premier special teams players. While the team captain could come back after this season, nobody would blame him for calling it a career: the 33-year-old has earned multiple accolades over his career — both with the team and individually. If Slater decides to call it quits, whether after the 2019 season or later, New England seems to be well equipped with players like Brandon King (25) and Brandon Bolden (29) as potential successors.
QB Brian Hoyer (33): Like Slater, Tom Brady’s backup is entering the final year of his contract — and likely his tenure with the Patriots. With both the aforementioned Stidham and second-year man Danny Etling (24) under contract, New England will likely don’t have a need to retain the veteran’s services beyond this year. Consequently, the two youngsters are the succession plan for Hoyer.
WR Julian Edelman (33): Edelman added two more years to his contract this offseason, so he will not be going anywhere anytime soon. But once the inevitable happens, the Patriots should hope that first-round rookie N’Keal Harry (21) will be able to pick up the slack as the go-to wide receivers in the Patriots’ offense. Another potential but unproven option to one day replace Edelman’s — especially given his role within the Patriots’ scheme — might be 2018 sixth-round draft choice Braxton Berrios (23).
DE Michael Bennett (33): New England has some talented young depth at its defensive edge, with Deatrich Wise Jr. (24) and rookie Chase Winovich (24) as the most realistic options to potentially succeed Bennett further down the line. Another player to keep in mind is Derek Rivers (25), who is currently in the middle of his first full offseason with the Patriots since joining them in the third round of the draft two years ago.
WR Demaryius Thomas (31): As noted above, Thomas is no lock to make the team, which means that the Patriots might not need a contingency plan in place for him. If, however, Thomas turns into a contributor in 2019, the Patriots’ young receiving talent — the aforementioned Harry and possibly even Josh Gordon (28) — could be there to pick up the slack.
CB Jason McCourty (31): The Patriots’ cornerback group is arguably the deepest in the NFL, and there are plenty of options to one day fill McCourty’s starting role in the secondary (maybe even as early as 2019). Former undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson (23) is the top candidate given his contributions last year, while Duke Dawson Jr. (23) and Joejuan Williams (21) are also players to keep in mind. It looks like the Patriots will probably be fine whenever McCourty steps away.
FS Devin McCourty (31): Jason’s twin brother Devin does not have the same depth behind him. Duron Harmon (28) is the next man up at the moment, but he is ‘only’ three and a half years younger than McCourty and does not quite possess his range. An intriguing option to watch might be versatile cornerback Jonathan Jones (25), though: he saw time as a de facto fourth safety in the Super Bowl and has the speed and vision to maybe make a full-time switch — and become McCourty’s heir one day.
SS Patrick Chung (31): While the Patriots have Obi Melifonwu (25) as a possible replacement for Chung, the former second-round draft pick has shown little so far in his career that would qualify him as the team captain’s eventual successor. New England might therefore look to the draft next year or further down the line to bolster its safety group.
OT Marcus Cannon (31): The Patriots drafted Yodny Cajuste (23) in the third round this year, and he appears to be tailor-made to one day take over for Cannon. The rookie needs some development to eventually turn into a starter, but he would have both time and the league’s premier offensive line coach on his side.
WR Dontrelle Inman (30): Like Demaryius Thomas, Inman is no lock to make the team so the Patriots do not have to worry about replacing him just yet. Younger wide receivers on the roster who play a similar role as Inman does are first-round pick Harry and fellow offseason acquisition Maurice Harris (26).
SS Nate Ebner (30): Ebner’s situation is similar to Matthew Slater’s: he is a veteran special teamer and leader on the team entering the final year of his contract. While he will likely be retained beyond 2019, players like the aforementioned King and Bolden are there to potentially fill his role further down the line.
FB James Develin (30): New England does have a second fullback under contract right now in international player Jakob Johnson. And while it would be a surprise to see Johnson one day take over for one of the NFL’s best players at his position, Develin also came out of nowhere to turn into a key contributor.