Devin McCourty may be more important in 2020 than any other season during his 10-year career.
And no it’s not just on the field leading the Patriots defense, it’s off the field being a leading advocate for racial justice.
While McCourty hasn’t officially said he will play this season, based on his recent comments and attending workouts at Gillette Stadium Monday, it seems like he will not opt out, at least as of now.
The Patriots have already had eight players opt out for the upcoming season, including two of the leaders and best players on defense in Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung. This means McCourty will be more important than ever before.
Without Chung at safety, McCourty may be asked to do a little more than he normally would. He will also play a vital role in the development of rookie Kyle Dugger, who was the Patriots' No. 1 pick in April’s draft. Bill Belichick said on draft weekend the D-II Lenoir-Rhyne product would learn from McCourty and Chung, and now that is down to just McCourty.
From a leadership perspective on defense, it’s really just McCourty and no one else. Lawrence Guy is a player who others look up to, but he’s more of the lead by example type. Ja’Whaun Bentley was a three-year captain at Purdue, but is he ready to be a leader at the NFL level with his limited experience?
Being a 10-year veteran, McCourty is like Tom Brady was to the entire team during his time with the Patriots — he sets the tone for the defense. Whatever he does, the unit will follow.
Off the field, McCourty will continue his push for social justice, which continued Sunday.
McCourty was part of the Patriots’ video conference media availability, but he did not take questions. Instead, he spoke for more than six minutes and hit on a number of subjects that didn’t pertain to the Patriots.
He addressed the killing of Breonna Taylor, inequalities in education and healthcare systems, police reform and a lack of diversity in the NFL when it comes to head coaches, general managers and owners.
“I think it’s very important that I don’t lose focus on (off-field matters) and that everyone around football doesn’t lose focus on that,” he said at the start.
Don’t expect this to be just a one-time thing for McCourty, either. Given how much the issues in society matter to him, he will use his platform to the max when it comes to raising awareness for all kinds of issues relating to social justice.
Whether it is a press conference during training camp, the week of a game, or even after a game, these issues will be something McCourty brings up with the platform he has.
Belichick knows better than anyone the impact McCourty can have.
“Devin, it has truly been an honor to coach you," he said in a message recorded for him back in June when he was honored by Boston Uncornered’s 2020 Champion of the Year. “”Not only for what you have meant to our football team, but to see you become a great and inspirational man. You are the ultimate role model. You have given us great leadership on and off the field since 2010 when we drafted you in the first round. You have started every game you have played and became a captain in your second year.
“Congratulations for what you have done to improve people’s lives through your work with Boston Uncornered. You are a great example of the impact that someone can have with great wisdom, leadership, courage and passion.”
While McCourty will be extremely important to the Patriots on the field this season, he will be equally important to society off it.