How Devin McCourty is managing Patriots' expectations after Tom Brady's exit

How Devin McCourty is managing Patriots' expectations after Tom Brady's exit

Pop quiz: When is the last time you were satisfied with a New England Patriots season that didn't end with a Super Bowl title?

Championships have been the standard in New England for the past two decades, but that will change in 2020 with Tom Brady taking his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

... Right?

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Veteran safety Devin McCourty was the first Patriots player to address the media since Brady's departure Wednesday and tried to walk a fine line when asked about expectations for this year's squad.

"I don’t think you ever come into a season and talk, 'Super Bowl, Super Bowl,' " McCourty told reporters in a conference call. "It's about improving and winning games along the way. I think that will stay the same."

While the Patriots may not "talk" Super Bowl, playing in February always was the implicit goal with Brady around. And McCourty is well aware that fans don't think New England has a shot without TB12.

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"I've seen people tweeting me like, ‘Enjoy what you guys had. It’s over. You guys won’t win a game,' McCourty said. "I think that's natural, though. I think if I was a fan and ... I watched a guy for a long time and he left and he was so great, I would say that team would be terrible, too."

Whether the Patriots are actually competitive in 2020 -- one sportsbook has their win total set at nine -- may depend on how they fill Brady's leadership void.

But McCourty pushed back on the notion that Brady was the team's sole motivator.

"I know everyone is like, ‘What's going to happen? Everything is brand new.’ I don’t really see it like that," McCourty said. "I see it continuing what we’ve been doing and guys assuming the same leadership roles when you look at myself, (Matthew) Slater, Jules (Julian Edelman), (Patrick) Chung. All those guys have been there 10-plus years, so we just have to continue to do what we’ve been doing."

Slater, McCourty and Edelman are New England's three longest-tenured players with Brady and Stephen Gostkowski gone. None are Brady, obviously, but McCourty is hopeful they can continue the "Patriot Way" -- which should translate into continued success.

Updated Patriots cornerback depth chart after Michael Jackson trade with Lions

Updated Patriots cornerback depth chart after Michael Jackson trade with Lions

The New England Patriots added even more depth to an elite group of cornerbacks Sunday by acquiring Michael Jackson in a trade with the Detroit Lions.

Jackson, who's listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, was a fifth-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. The Detroit Lions signed him off the Cowboys practice squad last season and he played in one game for the NFC North team.

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Here's an updated look at the Patriots' cornerback depth chart with Jackson in the fold:

--Stephon Gilmore
--Jason McCourty
--J.C. Jackson
--Jonathan Jones
--Joejuan Williams
--Michael Jackson
--Myles Bryant
--D’Angelo Ross

It should be noted that Justin Bethel is listed at cornerback, but most of his snaps come on special teams. 

A strong case could be made that cornerback is the deepest position on the Patriots roster. The group is led by Stephon Gilmore, who became the first Patriot ever to win the AP's NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2019. Gilmore is the league's best cornerback and has earned first team All-Pro selections in back-to-back seasons. 

He's not the only talented cornerback in the Patriots secondary, though. 

J.C. Jackson excelled in coverage last season, too, especially on passes beyond 20 yards. In fact, Jackson had the lowest passer rating allowed when targeted of all cornerbacks in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus.

One of the most intriguing players in the Patriots secondary is second-year cornerback Joejuan Williams. He was a second-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2019 but saw limited playing time as a rookie.

The depth of the Patriots defense has been hit hard in recent months due to free agent departures and veterans opting out of the 2020 season amid concerns over COVID-19. One position that has remained largely intact is cornerback, and barring any significant injuries, it could be the team's most productive position this coming season.

Patriots acquire CB Michael Jackson in trade with Lions

Patriots acquire CB Michael Jackson in trade with Lions

The New England Patriots have added another cornerback to their depth chart.

On Sunday, they announced they've acquired Michael Jackson from the Detroit Lions for an undisclosed 2022 draft pick.

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Jackson was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft (158th overall) by the Dallas Cowboys out of Miami. He started his rookie season on Dallas' practice squad before being signed by Detroit.

The 23-year-old played in only one game last season for the Lions.

Jackson joins a Patriots cornerback group that currently consists of Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, D'Angelo Ross, Justin Bethel, and Myles Bryant.