Patriots Nation breathed a sigh of relief this week when veteran safety Devin McCourty announced that he would be returning for his 10th season with the team. There were speculations of his retirement during the week before the Super Bowl thanks to some cryptic comments dropped by McCourty. Patriots’ cornerback Jason McCourty, Devin’s twin brother, predicted his brother would be back on the field next year, calling him a “drama queen.”
Devin McCourty was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Rutgers. When the Patriots’ drafted him with the 27th overall pick, their intention was to play him at his original position, cornerback. In his rookie season, McCourty was named second-team All-Pro, and nominated to the Pro Bowl. Entering his 10th season, his seven interceptions from his rookie year remain his career high.
The standout rookie came back to earth in 2011, but still made his impact known in the secondary as the top cornerback on the roster. However, McCourty began to struggle in his third season with the team, prompting the Patriots to acquire Aqib Talib from the Buccaneers before the trade deadline. These factors contributed to McCourty’s move from cornerback to free safety, where he has been since then.
As a safety, McCourty impressed immediately. He had free space to patrol deep in the secondary and was able to control and instruct the defense with his vast football knowledge. McCourty, the longest tenured Patriot on defense, has been the backbone of many fearsome secondaries, including this year’s Super Bowl winning team as well as the 2014 roster that included Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Patrick Chung. The 2014 squad also won a Super Bowl, defeating the Seattle Seahawks thanks to an interception at the goal-line by Malcolm Butler.
Following the team’s Super Bowl 49 victory, McCourty was scheduled to become a free agent. Belichick did what many fans had hoped for, and paid up to retain McCourty, who was one of the top free agents available in 2015.
Not only has McCourty contributed on the field through his play, but also through the coaching he gives his former teammates. The leadership displayed by McCourty has played a direct role in developing multiple young players on the team, ranging from safety Duron Harmon to All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Due to his character on and off the field, McCourty has been named a captain of the Patriots multiple times.
D-Mac made one of the best moves of his career before the start of the 2018 season by convincing head coach Bill Belichick to acquire his brother, cornerback Jason McCourty, from the Cleveland Browns. This year, the starting cornerback duo of Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty both earned top 10 grades at their position, per PFF. With Devin returning to the fold, it’s much more likely that Jason, an impending free agent, will be suiting up for the Patriots this summer.
When Devin was dropping subtle hints about his future, many fans began to wonder who would fill the humongous void left by the safety. Duron Harmon would be the logical choice, but with a grand group of safeties hitting the free agent market, specifically Landon Collins and Earl Thomas, projections were made about the upcoming free agency period. With the longtime Patriot returning to the action, New England will not have to worry about acquiring a defensive starter from the market.
Based off of McCourty’s age and the wear and tear on starting strong safety Pat Chung, the Patriots would be wise to seek out a new safety in the 2019 NFL Draft. A deep round prospect could be a gold-mine for Belichick and the Patriots, as any player that arrives in Foxboro will receive excellent teaching from McCourty, Chung, and Belichick.
Just like Tom Brady, McCourty’s play has not slowed down with age. If anything, he has become a Belichick-type leader on the field; his intelligence mixed with Belichick’s sage coaching has made McCourty into a player-coach. With a young secondary consisting of soon to be sophomores J.C. Jackson and Duke Lawson, the experience that McCourty brings in what could be his last season will be vital to their development as professionals.
On the offensive side of the ball, another superstar is still questioning his future. Hopefully, D-Mac’s drive to win another championship nudges Rob Gronkowski to return for one last dance as well. Blessed with a stellar roster and impeccable coaching, the Patriots’ dynasty can last as long as they want it to.