For the first time since he heard his name called in the second round of the NFL’s 2014 draft, Kyle Van Noy does not know where he will spend his next season. The 28-year-old is an unrestricted free agent, a status he has never held before in his career, and only 16 days away from hitting the open market and from possibly joining a new team after spending the last three-and-a-half years as a core member of the New England Patriots’ defense.
Van Noy’s goals for his impending free agency were already laid out shortly after the Patriots’ 2019 season came to an end on wild card weekend: he is looking to get paid. How “getting paid” is defined is Van Noy’s secret, and whether or not it is a realistic target remains to be seen, but the linebacker has certainly created an impressive résumé since New England acquired him via trade midway through the 2016 regular season.
Since then, Van Noy has appeared in 61 games for the club and won two Super Bowls along the way. His focus is not on what was but what lies ahead, however, as he recently told ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss: “I’m excited for the future. I’m in my prime years of football. I know everyone’s prime is different, but I feel like I’m still learning a lot of football, I still have a lot of game left. I didn’t play that much my first two years. I played a lot on special teams, but I didn’t get much [other] action. I feel like I have a lot of juice left.”
Van Noy is entering his seventh season in the NFL and will turn 29 later this month, but he still has comparatively little mileage on his tires after seeing only limited playing time during his first two years in the league. Back then, he was with the Detroit Lions where he failed to earn the trust of head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. As a result, he also was unable to carve out a regular role on the team’s defense.
“I was so not happy where I was earlier in my career,” said Van Noy, who appeared in 23 games over his first two seasons in the league, but registered only thirteen tackles and a single sack while playing just six percent of Detroit’s defensive snaps. Despite the limited production, however, the Patriots still brought him on board when they sent a sixth-round draft pick to the Lions for the linebacker and a seventh-round selection. The move changed everything for Van Noy.
“Now I’m so happy with who I am as a person, comfortable. I know what I want. I was telling my wife the other day, ‘I still am hungry.’ There’s still work to be done,” he said. “The way my career started, dealing with so much B.S., and injuries, just so much stuff thrown at me. Then getting traded for a sixth-round pick, making the most of my opportunity when I got it, then proving year-in and year-out that I’m a guy you want to have on your team.”
“I may not have the star [power] or whatever people say it is,” he continued. “I might not have the [measurables] — the biggest or smallest dude — but what I am proud about is if you put a football on the field, you know who is going to show up every single game, all game. You can count on me as a teammate. If you talk to my teammates, they could say the same thing and that’s what I think I’m most proud about.”
Van Noy indeed proved himself a reliable teammate in New England. Playing alongside former first-round draft pick Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots were able to take advantage of his diverse skill-set: they did not attempt to fit him into a corset like the Lions tried to do when they badly wanted to make him a 4-3 off-the-ball linebacker, and instead moved him all over the formation to create favorable matchups for both him and Hightower.
The results spoke for themselves, and the new situation made Van Noy a better player not just on the field — one finally living up to his draft status albeit with a different team — but off it as well as he told Reiss: “The off-the-field stuff I’m proud about as well. My foundation, continuing the growth and all that. I don’t think I was like that when I was younger. I think I took things not necessarily for granted, but I didn’t soak it up.”
Soak it up Van Noy did in New England, and now he is entering free agency as one of the biggest names available on the linebacker market. Despite the uncertainty surrounding his situation, however, he pointed out that his goals remain the same: continuing to work and being in the best shape possible. It is what made him a successful starter for the Patriots, and in turn one of the best in-season trade acquisitions the franchise has ever made.