Patriots

Devin McCourty reacts to reported Patriots additions Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis

Devin McCourty reacts to reported Patriots additions Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis

The New England Patriots had one of the NFL's best secondaries last season, but the group will have some new faces in 2020. 

The Patriots reportedly have agreed to contracts with veteran safeties Adrian Phillips and Cody Davis. These additions will help the Patriots replace safeties Duron Harmon (traded to the Detroit Lions) and Nate Ebner (signed with the New York Giants), who've both departed this offseason.

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Phillips was an All-Pro in 2018. He's a versatile player with the ability to play both safety positions and linebacker. Davis likely will play a role on special teams, where he played the third-most snaps in the league last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Devin McCourty has been a pillar of the Patriots defensive for a decade, and on a media conference call Wednesday, he reacted to the additions of Phillips and Davis.

"I just know a little bit about both of them. Obviously, experienced guys, Cody Davis is a guy who plays different roles, played on special teams. And then, obviously, Adrian Phillips we watched when the Chargers made that run in the playoffs. Having all those DBs on the field and (Phillips) being able to look to play linebacker, play safety, play a bunch of different roles. Overall, that’s us in a nutshell, that’s our defense, that’s our team, having guys who are team-first guys who can play multiple roles to help the team in a bunch of different ways.

"I think ultimately, all of us being able to help on special teams and have a role there really defines our team. I’m excited for some time when we all get a chance to work together and build our camaraderie. That’s always the biggest thing, especially in the secondary, is building not just communication and everything but friendships and bonds of off-the-field stuff and things like that. I can’t wait to, as a group, get back together and start that process and again, try to be a really good secondary going into the season."

The Patriots led the league in opposing QB completion percentage, opposing QB rating and interceptions, while ranking second in passing yards allowed last season. The secondary, highlighted by veteran cornerback and Defensive Player of the Year winner Stephon Gilmore, played a huge role in that success.

With longtime Patriots quarterback Tom Brady taking his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, the defense (and the secondary, in particular) likely will need to play at the same level it did last season for New England to be successful in 2020. McCourty is not putting any added pressure on the defense, though.

"No, I think for me, as a defense we should want to be great no matter what," McCourty said. "For years, we always have talked about us being the reason we lost games and we knew how great Tom was. I still say the same thing because the defense, your goal has to always be the same when you take the field. If we get turnovers, we dominate and get the offense back on the field.

"For us as a defense, that’s something that we need to do. Last year, we didn’t go into the season and say, 'We need to carry the team,' or, 'We need to do this and that.' We said, 'We need to be as good as we can.' The offense said the same thing, special teams said it, and then you see where you fall. I think we have to continue to do those same things as a defense, as an offense and overall, special teams, if you want to be a good football team."

Phil Perry: Defensive tackle fits for Pats in NFL Draft

Can Tom Brady's departure spark a Bill Belichick renaissance with Patriots?

Can Tom Brady's departure spark a Bill Belichick renaissance with Patriots?

Next week, Bill Belichick will celebrate his 68th birthday.

The last 46 of those years, incredibly, have been devoted to professional coaching. Belichick has dozens of historic achievements in his career, but that one — 46 in a row — is unheard of. No days off, indeed.

That’s not an exaggeration. No one in league history has taught for so long, so consecutively, and so successfully. George Halas, who could have done whatever he wanted as league co-founder and Bears owner, didn’t do it. Neither did Vince Lombardi, Don Shula or Tom Landry, even when you include their time as assistants.

When the 2020 season begins, Belichick will have coached longer than 14 of his current head coaching peers have lived. (And of those 14, three have been assistants for him, another one played for and was traded by him, and yet another, Kliff Kingsbury, was drafted by him to essentially chart plays.)

That leads to the question: What do you get the man who has won everything and apparently coached everybody? How about a package that includes The TB12 Method and Tom vs. Time?

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This is one of the many ironies of the Belichick-Brady separation. They both were, and are, trying to achieve the same thing. Neither believes there is any reason they shouldn’t be excellent at their jobs at this age, even though none of their NFL heroes — from Joe Montana to Paul Brown — were able to do at 68 and 43 what Belichick and Brady are doing right now.

More than that, with the NFL draft two weeks away, Belichick should be feeling how Brady did when Jimmy Garoppolo was picked in the second round.

Challenged. Indignant. Pushed. Inspired.

The year before Garoppolo arrived, 2013, Brady’s performance was ... just okay. He had been the league’s first unanimous MVP in 2010, but in ’13 he appeared to be slipping. He was 36, his completion percentage was the lowest of his career, and he threw fewer touchdown passes than he had in seven years. Belichick also knew that in Ryan Mallett, Brady had a backup who was wholly incapable of threatening his position.

Then the jolt happened. Belichick selected Garoppolo higher than he had ever picked a quarterback in New England. He went on to explain it by mentioning Brady’s age and contract status. Once Brady saw that Garoppolo could quickly absorb and execute the offense — his offense — he knew this was more than just a throwing buddy.

Maybe Brady’s argument is that what followed was purely coincidental. But the timing and numbers suggest that Garoppolo’s presence energized him and helped him produce, for my money, the best five-season stretch of his career: 158 touchdown passes, 37 interceptions, three Super Bowl titles, two Super Bowl MVPs, and a league MVP at age 40, making him the oldest winner of the award in NFL history.

As Brady said in his recent Players’ Tribune piece, sometimes you need a new rhythm; in 2014 and beyond, Jimmy G turned Brady’s slowing waltz into pulsating salsa. The same thing needs to happen for Belichick now as he approaches his roster puzzle, for the first time in a generation, without Brady.

So who can possibly play the Garoppolo role and give Belichick that boost, a boost that will restore him to his vintage, draft-day self? Whose presence — or in this case, absence — is substantial enough to make Belichick refocus on the shrewd trades that he used to make and the discarded players whose careers he used to resuscitate? 

Brady. Of course.

Tom Brady, in his absence, is Bill Belichick’s Jimmy Garoppolo.

Whereas Brady in 2014 was responding to potentially losing the job to Garoppolo, Belichick’s 2020 pressure stems from losing his independence when the credits roll.

He’s believed, for a while now, that he can win titles without Brady. This is the time, team-building time, when belief goes from theory to actual flesh-and-blood players that you draft. If Belichick can’t win without Brady, he’ll be historically married to the quarterback — and the quarterback only — forever, divorce be damned.

At this point, you might be wondering why the greatest coach to ever rock a hoodie and a whistle needs an April reset. If you’re that person, you haven’t been paying attention to history, distant and recent alike. We’ll begin with some of Belichick’s latest draft picks and trades. Simply, he’s had his own version of Brady’s 2013 season for a few years now.

The coach used to give you parlays at the top of his drafts. It wasn’t just Richard Seymour, it was Matt Light coming with him. It was Daniel Graham and Deion Branch. Vince Wilfork and Ben Watson. Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski. Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower.

But since 2014, the first-round picks have been nondescript, injured, or unproven. Sometimes it’s the first one (Malcom Brown), the latter two (N’Keal Harry) and once it was all three (Dominique Easley).

Vintage Belichick was so masterful in the second round that teams gave him things that made him, and many of his admirers in the scouting community, shake their heads in amazement. More than once, teams offered him future second-round picks for his present-day thirds. No strings attached. Here, take it. Your third for my second. All you gotta do is wait a year for it. 

At least Tony Soprano used force to get freebies like that. Belichick did a similar dance once with the Panthers, moving his pick at 89 in 2010 for their pick at 33 in 2011. Although his chosen player there, Ras-I Dowling, fizzled, the maneuver was typical of what he did with a war room and a phone. He was brilliant with that second-round choice of Garoppolo. And he hasn’t hit on another one since, trying to find oil in a desert of defensive backs: Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson, and we’ll see with Joejuan Williams.

Just as concerning, there are other positional groups that the Patriots just miss. I was excited when colleague Phil Perry described the 2020 wide receiver class as one of the best ever. Then I remembered that the last talented receiver drafted and developed by the Patriots was Julian Edelman 11 years ago.

The disclaimer to all of this is that the draft is hard. For everybody. Imagine stepping into one of those giant wind tunnel cash machines and trying to grab, specifically, 100s and 50s. Over the years, two men have done it better than anyone: Belichick and yet another executive who used to work for him, Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore.

But there’s been some New England fraying, in the draft and elsewhere.

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As Brady knows by looking at some of his best friends, the Patriots’ dynasty wasn’t built solely on smart drafts. Mike Vrabel was signed away from the Steelers even though their coach was a former linebacker who knew good ones when he saw them. The Chargers thought Rodney Harrison was done; Belichick signed him and Harrison is a two-time champion in the Patriots Hall of Fame. Aqib Talib was acquired for a fourth-rounder; Kyle Van Noy for a sixth; Malcolm Butler off the street for nothing.

Lately? A 2017 second given away for Kony Ealy who never played a regular-season game. A 2020 second given away for Mohamed Sanu, who truly played in one regular season game but was listed as part of eight. New money and a fifth for Michael Bennett. Antonio Brown secretly recorded a conversation with his head coach in Oakland, turned it into a multimedia production, trashed anyone who told him to chill ... and was signed by the Patriots. Their mantra wasn’t supposed to be Bring The Noise.

Coaching greatness, in and of itself, is no guarantee for success. Even the legends need to be motivated by ghosts, real or imagined, to keep their edge. Or they fall off. It happened to Shula. The winningest coach in history had a late-career drought in which he couldn’t draft or win. There was an eight-year period where he missed the playoffs six times. He was forced out at 65.

It happened to Landry. His last first-round pick, Michael Irvin, became a Hall of Famer. But it was too late because he missed the playoffs in four of his final five seasons. He was fired at 64.

Chuck Noll, who won four titles in six years with the Steelers, got out early at 59 before anyone thought of asking, politely, for him to leave. He missed the playoffs in six of his final seven seasons. Entitled Steelers fans had begun coming up with poetry for their, and his, expected fifth ring. One for the thumb in ’81. The thumb is due in ’82. It never happened. After ’91, Noll was done.

It doesn’t have to happen for Belichick, who often reminds his players and coaches of a simple statement: If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. This time, with a dozen draft picks awaiting, is for getting better.

Brady did it with an assist from Garoppolo. Belichick can do it with an assist from Brady.

How ex-Patriots staffer factored into Texans' trade for Brandin Cooks

How ex-Patriots staffer factored into Texans' trade for Brandin Cooks

You're probably wondering why the heck the Houston Texans reportedly traded their 2020 second-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and a 2022 fourth-round pick.

You're right to wonder that; it's a head-scratching trade that attempts to solve a problem Houston created for itself by dealing star wideout DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals.

But Bill O'Brien and the Texans had their reasons, and one apparently involves a former New England Patriots employee: Houston vice president of football operations Jack Easterby.

Cooks became very close with Easterby during his 2017 season in New England, where Easterby was the team's development director/character coach, per ESPN's Sarah Barshop.

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Easterby often retweets Cooks on social media, and their relationship was a "major intangible factor" in Thursday's reported trade, The Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson reported.

Easterby left the Patriots in 2019 to join O'Brien (a former Patriots assistant) on somewhat contentious terms: New England reportedly was "livid" that Houston poached one of its prized staffers.

Cooks posted over 1,000 receiving yards in four straight seasons from 2015 to 2018 but regressed in 2019, catching 42 passes for 583 yards and two touchdowns.

The 26-year-old is now on his third team in four years, and the Rams are absorbing a massive dead money cap hit by trading him. But the Texans apparently see promise in the speedy pass-catcher -- in part thanks to Easterby.