- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2020

BOSTON (AP) - Don’t minimize the Patriots.

Devin McCourty warns the NFL that in the post-Tom Brady era, forgetting about New England is not a wise move.

The safety, defensive captain and three-time Super Bowl champion is entering his 11th season in New England after recently agreeing to a two-year contract extension worth as much as $23 million. Eighth in team history with 26 interceptions, McCourty had five picks in 2019.

While he acknowledges the team faces new challenges without Brady, he’s looking forward to taking them on alongside a group of veteran leaders of special teams captain Matt Slater, safety Patrick Chung and receiver Julian Edelman.

“Obviously, we had probably the greatest football player ever on our team, so I think people really didn’t look at the leadership and different guys we had in the locker room,” McCourty said Wednesday. “I know everyone’s kind of like, ‘What’s going to happen? Everything is brand new,’ but I don’t really see it like that. I see a continuance of what we’ve been doing and guys assuming the same leadership roles.”



McCourty said he sees the goals for next season the way he has always seen it: win as many games as possible. He thinks it’s up to the veterans to set that tone for newcomers and returnees alike.

“I don’t think you ever come into the season and talk, ‘Super Bowl, Super Bowl, Super Bowl.’ It’s about improving and winning games along the way as you improve. I think that will stay the same,” he said.

Still, he’s not oblivious to the narrative forming around the team’s prospects following Brady’s departure to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“A lot of what I’ve seen is just people tweeting me like, ‘Enjoy what you guys had, it’s over, you guys won’t win a game.’ I think that’s natural, though,” McCourty said. “I think if I was a fan and I watched the team and watched a guy for a long time and he left and he was so great, I would say that team is going to be terrible, too. That’s expected, but I think it’s our job as players to go out there and compete when we get the opportunity.”

It’s also why McCourty said he wants to avoid making any overarching comments about second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who currently sits at the top of the depth chart.

“If you ask me to evaluate and pick a quarterback, the team’s probably going to lose a lot of games,” McCourty said. “I love how he’s come in, he’s eager to learn, great personality, great attitude, like a lot of the guys in the locker room. He’s been one of the more mature guys that comes in and just does the work.”

The Patriots lost several key pieces in free agency from a defense that allowed a league-low 272 yards per game. The list includes linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts, and defensive lineman Danny Shelton. But they’ve also added some potential replacements in defensive tackle Beau Allen and linebacker Brandon Copeland.

McCourty says the Patriots won’t do is try to force guys into roles. He thinks that has to be a more natural process, much like it was following the departures of standouts Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Logan Mankins.

McCourty has pondered retirement each of the past two seasons, particularly after he and brother Jason shared in the Patriots’ Super Bowl win to cap the 2018 season. The team picked up Jason’s $3.8 million option for 2020, though Devin said it wasn’t the deciding factor in his decision to return for his 11th NFL season.

He’s trying to prepare the best way he can as NFL players adjust their offseason training routines in the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak.

McCourty’s been video conferencing with his trainer to construct workouts he can do at home. He’s recently purchased an exercise bike to participate in live spin classes. But he knows the NFL season could be delayed as the country gets back on its feet.

“It feels like everything is on the table. Training camp could start on time or it could be delayed,” McCourty said. “I don’t want to say it’s the last thing you worry about, but I feel like it’s kind of down on the things of importance, just because everything that’s going on right now, because of the health of people and just seeing different stories come out every day.

“It just feels like this season’s kind of on the back burner with just trying to make sure everybody stays safe.”

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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