By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — All anybody’s been able to talk about for the past week (and month … and year) has been the uncertain future of Tom Brady. It’s understandable. Tom Brady’s a pretty big deal.READ MORE: 'A Blast Furnace': Firefighters Battle Strong Winds, Flames At Roxbury Apartment Building
Still, one player does not make up an entire football team — not even the GOAT.
So with the sourness of Saturday night’s loss still fresh for many football fans in New England, here’s a look toward the future. With the offseason abruptly beginning in early January for the first time in a very long time in Foxboro, here’s a list of which players are set to become free agents and/or retire this offseason.
You knew this one already. Brady’s contract will void in March, and the Patriots can’t apply the franchise tag on him. That means, barring some agreement before the league year ends, Brady will become a free agent.
Here’s what Brady said about his future in the moments after Saturday’s crushing loss:
I love the Patriots. I mean, they obviously – this is the greatest organization, and playing for Mr. Kraft all these years and for Coach Belichick – there’s nobody that’s had a better career, I would say, than me, just being with them. So, I’m very blessed and I don’t know what the future looks like and I’m not going to predict it. So, I wish we would have won tonight and wish we would have done a lot of things better over the course of the season, but we just didn’t get the job done.
I just don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m not going to predict it. No one needs to make choices at this point. I love playing football, I love playing for this team. I’ve loved playing for this team for two decades and winning a lot of games. And again, I don’t know what it looks like moving forward, so we’ll just take it day-by-day.
Brady was asked if he might retire this summer.
“I would say it’s pretty unlikely,” he answered. “Yeah, hopefully unlikely.”
The fourth-longest tenured Patriots player (behind Brady, Matthew Slater, and Julian Edelman), McCourty’s contract is up at the end of the league year. Considering he said he was mulling retirement in the leadup to last year’s Super Bowl, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the retirement of the rare player to make All-Pro teams as both a cornerback and a safety. Yet McCourty said Saturday night that he “sees himself” playing football next year.
Overall, McCourty was a bit sentimental about it all potentially ending.
“I love these guys in this locker room. I’ve been here 10 years, I’ve seen guys grow, I’ve grown as a man being here and it’s been an honor to be a Patriot and play with these guys, but we just fell short today, and it’s a sour taste right now,” McCourty said. “We’ll see [what the future holds]. It will work itself out. I definitely see me playing football next year. I’ve had a lot of fun this year with this group of guys. Each year, we get young guys in here, get to stay in the locker room, mold these guys, tell them stories of my past 10 years and how much fun I’ve had. So, I can’t see it happening, me not playing football next year. So, I think over time, I’ll take some time away from football and I think the rest will kind of work itself out. We’ll see how that goes, but I definitely plan to be playing.”
McCourty was asked if this year’s team has more question marks regarding the future than past teams.
“Yeah, probably because a lot of the guys are older now,” he answered. “A lot of guys that have been here for a while. We’ve been here for a while – Slate 12 years, Tom 20, myself 10, Hightower eight, Jules 11, Chung 11. We’ve had guys that have been here, which you usually don’t see on teams, but we’ve had a lot of guys stay here for years. Nate Ebner’s been here for eight years, Duron Harmon seven years. We’ve had a lot of guys stay and play here for a lot of years. Cannon, another guy – nine years. I think, as you have a core group of guys that are now 30-plus, that always has question marks.
“Are we going to be as good? Are we going to retire? All of those questions continuously come up and I think it’s important to just take some time away, be with our families and figure out the situation going forward, just like I know all the Patriots will do the same thing. It’s been fun. We’ve got a good group of guys. Slate said it the best after the game. This doesn’t define us. We’ve had a good group, we’ve had some very good runs, great runs, and we’ve just got to hold our heads up and get ready for whatever the future holds.”
A special teams ace and the heart and soul of the Patriots’ locker room, Slater is the second-longest-tenured Patriot, behind only Brady. Drafted in 2008, Slater has done everything for the Patriots, playing some offense and defense in addition to his All-Pro special teams work.
The 34-year-old didn’t sound like he wants to retire, and his spot as a Pro Bowler and All-Pro this season should secure him future employment. It’s just not known if the Patriots will re-invest in Slater, who’s been a team captain since 2011.
“You know, I have to pray about that,” Slater said when asked about his future following the playoff loss. “I am not going to do anything that I don’t feel like God is calling me to do, but I would certainly still love to play and enjoy the competition and camaraderie. I am just going to be praying about it and we will take it from there.”
Ben Watson came out of a brief retirement to rejoin the team that drafted him way back in 2004. The year didn’t go exceptionally well for Watson, who caught just 17 passes for 173 yards without any touchdowns after returning from his suspension to start the year. He came up with a huge 38-yard reception on Saturday, but it was negated due to a penalty at the line of scrimmage.READ MORE: Mother Accused Of Putting Baby In Trash Can Charged With Attempted Murder
When asked about his future after the loss, Watson took a long moment to collect himself before answering.
“It’s difficult,” Watson said. “I love this game. But there’s a time where you have to move on. So, definitely won’t be back here next year, probably. And probably won’t be playing at all. [Retiring] is something I tried to do before, and it didn’t work. But there’s only so much your body can take, and so much you want to put your family through.”
Watson said he’ll talk with his family, but fresh off his 39th birthday, it seems like he’ll retire for good.
The Patriot to figure to make the most money this offseason is Joe Thuney. The left guard has been an ironman during his four-year career, taking 100 percent of the team’s offensive snaps from 2016-18 and then 99 percent this season. He earned Second Team All-Pro honors this year for the first time of his career, and he did it in a contract year.
He’s obviously highly valued by Bill Belichick, who drafted him in the third round of the 2016 draft and has utilized him for just about every single snap since. But with some top guards getting some big-time dollars, it can’t be predicted if the Patriots will be the highest bidder for his services.
The Patriots traded Jacoby Brissett for the former first-round pick prior to the 2017 season. Despite some flashes of promise, Dorsett never fully panned out in the Patriots offense.
He barely played in 2017 before getting some run early in 2018. But then the team signed Josh Gordon, and essentially relegated Dorsett to the sideline for the bulk of the season. This year, he played about half of the team’s offensive snaps, catching a career-high five touchdown passes but making just 29 receptions for 397 yards on the year.
Given his limited usage over the past three seasons, it’s likely that Dorsett — who turned 27 on Sunday — will look elsewhere for NFL work.
Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy was the latest in a long line of players who hadn’t been utilized properly in their first NFL home, only to blossom into a star in the Patriots system.
And now, Van Noy wants to cash in.
Here’s what Van Noy told Tom E. Curran last week:
“Everything’s on the table. I’m looking obviously to get paid a lot. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Sounds like a player interested in making top dollar, as is any player’s right. The Patriots may look to find the next diamond in the rough from a new team this offseason.
Early in the season, Jamie Collins was generating some real buzz for Defensive Player of the Year. Late in the year … he was not.
Collins had six sacks, 44 tackles, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), a pair of forced fumbles and a fumble recovery through eight weeks. He was a monster.
Collins had just one sack, 36 tackles, zero interceptions and one forced fumble over the final eight games. He was a bit quieter.
The Patriots signed Collins to a one-year, prove-it deal. He proved some things, but he likely didn’t prove that he’ll warrant another big payday on the open market.
Defensive tackle Danny Shelton had a solid season, one that will likely turn his career around and make him some dough on the open market. His work was difficult to ignore, so teams will certainly come calling. … Linebacker-turned-fullback Elandon Roberts did a solid for the Patriots when he agreed to change positions on the fly, but he probably didn’t do a ton for his value as a free-agent linebacker. After taking just 20 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps, his best deal will probably come from New England, a team that clearly values him. … Special teamer Nate Ebner is certainly valued, as is newcomer Justin Bethel. Belichick’s moves to fill out his special teams roster should never be forecast or predicted. … Offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse filled a much-needed role off the street when Isaiah Wynn went on IR, but he didn’t perform exceptionally well. … Center Ted Karras finally got to play, filling in decently for David Andrews, who was lost for the season late in the summer due to blood clots. Teams likely won’t be knocking down doors to sign Karras as their starting center, but he put out a lot of tape that could be enticing for a number of teams. … Kicker Nick Folk filled in nicely at the end of the year, but Stephen Gostkowski is under contract for the 2020 season. … Outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun and interior linemen James Ferentz and Jermaine Eluemunor also have expiring contracts. Considering their lack of impact, their futures in New England are unknown. … Defensive linemen Adam Butler and Keionta Davis will be restricted free agents. … Julian Edelman is one of the five oldest players on the roster, but he signed an extension last May, and he just put forth a career year while battling through injuries.MORE NEWS: Thieves Target Toyota Prius Catalytic Converters In Cambridge