One after the other, the pillars of the New England Patriots’ second dynastic run have started to leave the organization. In 2019, it was Rob Gronkowski. In 2020, it was Tom Brady and Stephen Gostkowski. This year, four other long-timers joined them.
Joe Thuney and Jason McCourty departed the Patriots as unrestricted free agents. Julian Edelman and Patrick Chung, meanwhile, announced their retirement. Each one of them has played a key role in New England winning at least one Super Bowl, and now they are on to the next chapters of their respective careers and/or lives.
Needless to say that younger players will have to step up to help fill those voids — something team captain Matthew Slater also recently pointed out — but that does not mean the Patriots are a team in transition, at least according to another veteran.
“Every year there’s change and you’re always going to see that,” Devin McCourty said during a media conference call in June. “We had a great room, and a lot of guys that played here for a while. You can’t play football forever, so you’re going to see some of those guys kind of dwindle out. Obviously, it’s a little different when some of those guys have been here for so long and played so many games.”
With Edelman and Chung gone, McCourty is now the team’s second longest-tenured member behind only Slater. Entering his 12th season in New England, he acknowledged that this year would be different with some fellow veterans gone. Among them is his twin brother.
With Jason McCourty not re-signed by the Patriots in free agency, he has decided to take his talents to the Miami Dolphins. For the first time since 2017, the McCourty Twins will therefore not play alongside each in the New England secondary.
“Obviously it’s different. I will say the different thing about this year, too, is guys like Chung and Jules; I’ve played with those guys for so long — obviously, J’s my twin brother and the last three years have been awesome — but it’s getting used to just that aspect of some of the guys that you don’t think twice about that you’re talking the field with. Jules had a few injuries through the years, and Chung not really,” McCourty said.
“So, it’s like almost every time you’re at practice or a game, you just get used to seeing those guys. I think it shows age, when you’re still playing football. Things obviously change in this league, but I would say all those guys, kind of grouping them together has created a different atmosphere.”
McCourty joined the Patriots as a first-round draft pick out of Rutgers in 2010, and has since developed into one of the best defensive backs of his era. Playing in a combined 194 regular season and playoff games, he was a starter on three championship teams is a two-time Pro Bowler and three-time second-team All-Pro.
While McCourty has shown no signs of slowing down just yet, the end of the journey is on the horizon for him as well. He will turn 34 in August, and is in the final year of his contract.
At the moment, though, he is still with the team and continuing to fill his role as a locker room leader. A team captain since his second season in the league, after all, McCourty was instrumental in helping guide his teammates through numerous highs and the occasional lows.
This year will be no different, even though he now also has his eyes on grooming the next generation of Patriots.
“I think that’s the fun part about being a leader, being on a team for a while: now I’m trying to bring all of them together with new guys, young guys, veteran guys and building a team,” he said. “I think that’s what I’m trying to do, to help the guys out as much as I can.”