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What Devin McCourty retiring from the NFL means for the Patriots

After 13 seasons, the long-time team captain is calling it a career.

After 13 seasons in the NFL and with the New England Patriots, safety and long-time team captain Devin McCourty is calling it a career. The 35-year-old, who won three Super Bowls with the organization, announced his decision on Friday.

With McCourty riding into the sunset, the Patriots are filled with a massive gap to fill on their roster. How exactly does his retirement impact the team, though? Let’s briefly go over it.

The Patriots defense loses its longest-tenured member... As noted above, McCourty spent 13 seasons with the Patriots. He also retires the second-longest-tenured member of the team behind only Matthew Slater, and the elder statesman of the defense.

Needless to say that the Patriots are losing a ton of experience. A first-round draft pick in 2010, McCourty appeared in a combined 229 regular season and playoff games for the club and was a cornerstone on three Super Bowl-winning teams. With him now off to retirement, the title for longest-tenured New England defender goes to 2016 rookie free agent signing Jonathan Jones, who himself is a free agent this year.

If Jones leaves in free agency, defensive tackle Lawrence Guy would take over that position.

...and one of the most important locker room leaders. McCourty joined the Patriots in 2010, and just one year later was voted a team captain for the very first time. It was a sign of things to come: he would serve as a leader for the rest of his career, and set the tone for the organization both on and off the field year-in and year-out.

Who will take over this role remains to be seen, but the Patriots do have some candidates. For starters, their group of captains will stay mostly intact heading into 2023 even with McCourty gone. The aforementioned Matthew Slater is still around, as are fellow 2022 captains Mac Jones, David Andrews, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Ja’Whaun Bentley; one has to assume that Wise Jr. and Bentley will play a big role in the transition to a post-McCourty era.

In addition, several other players are in line to take on bigger leadership roles for the team — from edge Matthew Judon to safety Kyle Dugger.

New England’s secondary will look a lot different in 2023. Speaking of Kyle Dugger, he is now the clear-cut No. 1 in a safety room that also features Adrian Phillips and pending free agent Jabrill Peppers. That group is still a solid one on paper, but it does miss a player of McCourty’s range and playmaking abilities in the deep parts of the field.

New England might try to work around it by going to more of a two-high defense, or try to go out to bring a potential replacement on board through free agency or the draft. At the end of the day, though, the fact remains: this will be a new secondary.

The Patriots are in the market for some safety help. Had McCourty returned, safety would not have been too high up on the list of offseason priorities. Now, however, it climbs up the list and might just be up there with the other big needs such as offensive tackle, wide receiver or off-the-ball linebacker.

As noted above, there are options for the team in free agency and the draft. Lucky for the Patriots, they do have considerable resources at their disposal to bring outside talent aboard.

A new defensive signal-caller will have to emerge. McCourty’s responsibilities in the Patriots defense was manifold, but one of his most important role was that of the main communicator: he wore the green dot on his helmet, signaling his role as the on-field signal caller with the radio in his helmet.

The veteran safety took over that job in 2020, after linebacker Dont’a Hightower had opted out due to concerns over Covid-19, and kept the job through 2022. Who will it now go to? That is anyone’s guess, but it appears linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley — who briefly wore the green dot back in 2020 as well — and Jahlani Tavai might be frontrunners.

McCourty’s retirement will impact the salary cap, one way or another. McCourty’s retirement will have a financial impact on the Patriots, but it has yet to be determined what it will look like.

Will the move be processed right away in hopes of spreading out his $9.7 million cap hit between 2023 and 2024? Are there any other details to be considered? What about his pending status as a free agent?

For now, let’s go with salary cap expert Miguel Benzan:

Until I learn otherwise, I am going to presume Devin McCourty’s retirement will be processed by the start of the League Year. I have moved his $9.7M unamortized signing bonus proration from my active roster list to my dead money list.

Based on this, the Patriots’ salary cap space will decrease by $870,000 due to the retirement: McCourty’s spot on the top-51 list used to determine a team’s cap space during the offseason will be taken by another player.