Some Patriots thoughts on this Wednesday:
1) Seeing Devin McCourty’s retirement press conference on Tuesday was a reminder that heading into the 2023 season, the New England Patriots definitely have a big leadership void to fill on the defensive side of the football.
The long-time veteran was essentially the quarterback of the secondary, often making sure guys knew their assignments while processing each move New England’s opponents made.
McCourty’s football I.Q. was a big reason behind why he even landed with the Patriots, with Bill Belichick reflecting on his first meeting with the former Rutgers standout as he spoke on Tuesday in honor of his now-former player.
“We got into the film, and that’s where I kind of got blown away,” said Belichick. “Coach [Greg] Schiano told me that Devin was really smart, could run the defense, knew what everyone was doing. I’d heard that before. I was like, ‘All right, we’ll see.'”
So Belichick went through all of the individual assignments, from the secondary all the way to the defensive line, talking about various stunts and alignments, hoping to throw McCourty off.
But it didn’t happen. McCourty had all the answers and the explanation behind what each player was required to do in those situations.
That left Belichick pretty speechless after it was over.
“I’ve never really had an interview like this. I mean, I was completely stunned that he would know as much as he did about the entire Rutgers defense,” said Belichick. “So I went and talked to Coach Schiano, [telling him] ‘You told me he knew a lot about what you guys were doing, but this is … I’ve never had an interview like this.'”
The result was Belichick selecting him in April, and the rest, as they say, is history.
McCourty was drafted with the 27th overall pick in the first round in 2010 and had a terrific first season, finishing with seven interceptions in his rookie year, which tied him for second in the league with Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu and Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel. Baltimore safety Ed Reed led the NFL with eight on the year.
But McCourty had a difficult time following that performance up in his sophomore season. He finished the 2011 campaign with just two picks but struggled in coverage while also dealing with a shoulder injury. After another difficult start in 2012, he transitioned to free safety and started his first game there against the Jets on October 21st of that season.
McCourty talked on Tuesday about how much it meant that despite his struggles, the team never lost confidence in him during his transition to safety. And it obviously ended up being a smart move, as McCourty spent the next decade becoming a key piece in a defense that helped the team go on to win three championships.
However, now the challenge is going to be figuring out who can step into that role and help make sure that group stays as sharp as they were with McCourty running things. His role sort of fell under the radar given that he’s been a constant for so long and a lot of what he did obviously didn’t show up on the stat sheet.
As we know, safety remains a need. It’s an area that while the team has Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, and Jabril Peppers, it’s unclear who will draw the responsibilities McCourty held moving forward.
For now, McCourty is moving on to his next chapter, and while he won’t be out there with them, he’s looking forward to rooting for the team as a spectator in the coming years.
“I’m so excited to watch the game of football and root this team on and be one of those like crazy, avid Patriots fans living in New Jersey and, like, wearing my Pats gear,” said McCourty. “I never used to wear my Pats gear so people wouldn’t bother me. And now, I’m so excited to wear all my gear, so people hate me and I’m going to love every minute of that.”
2) There still doesn’t appear to be any movement on the trade front when it comes to wide receiver, as both the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos continue to hold DeAndre Hopkins and Jerry Jeudy hostage for what multiple reports continue to say will be at the cost of at least a first-round pick.
That appears to be a little extreme, especially for Hopkins. As good as he is, at 30 years old (he’ll be 31 in June) and considering his injury history, it’s hard to imagine any team parting ways with anything that substantial.
Meanwhile, Jeudy is just 23 and would potentially be a nicer long-term addition, provided he could be extended at a reasonable cost. Still, he’s not as explosive as Hopkins, and that cost is too high for New England to part with when you take into account their other needs at both offensive tackle and other positions.
The Cardinals have at least started to appear open to lowering their demands, with potentially a second-round pick and a later-round pick possibly being acceptable.
Looking back at past deals, the Patriots gave up just a fourth-round pick for then 30-year old Randy Moss when they acquired him back in April of 2007, who was certainly a more electric player than either of these two players. They also gave up just a second and seventh-round pick for Wes Welker, who is obviously a better receiver than Jeudy.
As nice as it would be to land either of those two players, it’s just not worth the cost, at least not at what New England would essentially be missing out on as they try and keep pace with other teams within both the Division and the Conference.
So for now, the plan appears to be to stand pat and wait things out. While fans are likely hoping for one more splash, if a deal eventually does come, fans may ultimately end up praising Belichick for being patient if they land either at a more reasonable cost.
If it doesn’t happen, it’s not ideal, but it’s still a pretty formidable group if new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien can get the most out of who they have and it’s possible they could still draft another receiver this April.
In the meantime, it’s a situation everyone will obviously be watching, but by the looks of things, it’s definitely far more likely that it won’t be Belichick who blinks first.
3) Damien Harris met with the Buffalo media on Tuesday and one thing he did was credit both Bill Belichick and his college coach, Nick Saban, for helping him become a successful player in the NFL.
“I feel like I should be able to write a book with all the knowledge that I’ve gained from those two,” Harris said via AL.com. “I would say just the things that I’ve taken from both of them is how to be a professional and how to conduct yourself in a professional manner from the way you show up every day ready to work, the mentality that you have, the way you affect others and then, obviously, the way you prepare and the way you perform. Professionalism, I feel like it covers so much ground and so many different things that that word is kind of what resonates with me.”
One thing that will probably annoy Patriots fans was his comments about Bills fans, who Harris said he was finally able to admit he was a fan of and he’s looking forward to being a part of his new football team.
“I can finally say it now, but I love Bills Mafia,” Harris said. “The energy, the enthusiasm, the tables on fire, everything that comes with it, I’ve loved it since I came to the league just because I love sports towns and communities that really rally behind their teams, and I don’t know if anybody does that more than Buffalo fans here in Buffalo. I love you guys and am excited just to be a part and, hopefully, give you guys some more reasons to jump through some more tables on fire.”
Jumping on tables on fire … not sure who came up with that, but it certainly remains one of the more bizarre pregame tailgate practices in recent memory.
Jackson coming to the Patriots seems unlikely. (PHOTO:Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)
4) The fact local media continues entertaining the notion of trading for Lamar Jackson is puzzling. Especially given both the cost to acquire him from a draft pick standpoint (two first-round picks) along with the ridiculous amount of guaranteed money he’s seeking.
Draft picks aside, Jackson is seeking a guaranteed deal commensurate with the one the Cleveland Browns gave Deshaun Watson out of desperation to pry him away from landing in Carolina, who was considered to be the favorite at the time, last offseason. While owners around the league are being accused of collusion for not being in the mix, it’s probably more to do with the fact the deal was so absurd, it was likely the only way to get Watson to agree to go to Ohio instead of North Carolina.
That deal will likely go down as one of the craziest anomalies in pro football and shouldn’t be considered by any stretch as the precedent Jackson is trying to make it.
That’s yet another reason why landing in New England seems like a long shot. The Patriots rarely pay top of the market costs as it is and handing over a massive payday to Jackson certainly goes against how they’ve conducted themselves in the past. Not to mention that this isn’t a team who has all the pieces and are just missing a quarterback. They’re still a young team in transition with other needs, and giving up multiple first-round picks is a setback they definitely can’t afford.
Jackson’s style of play also isn’t conducive to that type of investment, as he’s already taken some big hits and suffered injuries. He’ll need to change how he plays at some point, and it remains to be seen whether or not he can be as successful when he’s forced to be more of a passing quarterback over a 17-week season.
Obviously, ratings and clicks drives everything, so the fact this is a topic of discussion isn’t a surprise. But with Mac Jones heading into a critical year that could decide his future with the team or his own potential price tag should the Patriots opt to shop him next offseason and move on, the wiser move is definitely to stay the course and let things play out.
Posted Under: 2023 Patriots Offseason
Tags: Bill Belichick Damien Harris DeAndre Hopkins Devin McCourty Jerry Jeudy Lamar Jackson Randy Moss