Patriots

With Tom Brady departure in play, Patriots guard against overhaul by re-signing Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater

Patriots

Back when Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo was employed by NBC Sports Boston, on more than one occasion, he looked back at the 2009 team as a team in transition.

He was a captain in just his second year. Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison had retired. Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour had been traded. From the outside looking in, there was a leadership void, though the team at the time was prohibited from discussing it publicly.  

"Bill came out in that 2009," Mayo remembered, "and said, 'You know what, we're not going to talk about leadership at all. We know what we have to do internally and we're going to do that.' 

"When you start talking about things like that it just adds gasoline to stories, 'Oh the sense of urgency is not there.' "

Whether they would acknowledge it or not, something was missing from that year's Patriots team.

They still had players like Tom Brady, Kevin Faulk, Vince Wilfork. Logan Mankins and Matt Light on the roster. But as we saw in the NFL Films documentary "A Football Life," which followed Belichick for a behind-the-scenes look at how that season played out, there were issues with that group that it couldn't overcome. 

Belichick famously complained to Brady late in the season that he couldn't get that year's team to play the way he wanted them to play. They weren't mentally tough. They shrunk in big moments. Eventually they were ushered out of the postseason at home in the Wild Card Round.

 

The Patriots met that same fate last season with plenty of leadership on their roster.

So having the right balance of respected veterans — culture-carriers — isn't the be-all-end-all when it comes to NFL success. But the 2009 example is a decent one in terms of showing how having the right people in the room doesn't hurt. 

That's a long way of bringing us to this: In re-signing Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty, the Patriots made a pair of critical moves over the weekend to help maintain the culture that Belichick has diligently built and maintained over 20 years. 

On the field, both players are coming off of one of their best seasons. Slater, at 34, earned his fifth First-Team All-Pro nod. McCourty, at 32, picked off five passes — his most since 2012 — and quarterbacked a secondary that was the strength of the league's top defense. 

Off the field, both players embody the qualities laid out on the doors in and out of the Patriots facility.

Walking in, a sign insists that players, "do your job," "work hard," "be attentive" and "put the team first." On the way out, they're told "don't believe or fuel the hype," "manage expectations," "ignore the noise," and "speak for yourself." 

They are the leaders of their respective position groups, and both have been captains since 2011. Because of everything they bring to the table — and because the possibility looms that the Patriots may be without Brady in 2020 — they still possess tremendous value to the organization. And that fact was reflected in the contracts they earned. 

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Slater's contract is reportedly worth $5.3 million over two years, upper-tier payment for a core special-teamer. McCourty, meanwhile, can earn up to $23 million over two years. For a safety approaching his mid-30s, that's significant dollar value. 

Neither should prevent the Patriots from making a play for Brady, whose prospective new deal with the team can be constructed creatively for cap purposes now that the new CBA has passed

Even with respected vets like Julian Edelman, Jason McCourty, Patrick Chung, David Andrews, Duron Harmon, Marcus Cannon, James White, Jonathan Jones and Lawrence Guy all under contract, with Brady's future uncertain, keeping both Slater and McCourty in house prevents an offseason leadership hemorrhage that might've loomed had that trio scattered simultaneously.

With those two and others in the fold, there's now the opportunity for current staples within the program to pave the way for a younger core for multiple years — a core that's still taking shape with players like Isaiah Wynn, N'Keal Harry, Jarrett Stidham and Chase Winovich — as Belichick heads toward his third decade at the helm.