Devin McCourty expresses concern for Patriots' 2023 season

Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32)
Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) / Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Since retiring from the NFL earlier this year, Devin McCourty has remained in tune with the happenings of his former team, consistently discussing the Patriots with the Boston media. Good, bad, or indifferent, the three-time Super Bowl champion isn't afraid to share his thoughts as New England continues through a rebuild.

Now that the draft is over and the team begins to take more shape, McCourty appeared on NBC Sports Boston on Tuesday to discuss the outlook of the 2023 season.

Although he praised some offseason moves, like the signing of JuJu Smith-Schuster, he still worries that the offense doesn't have a game-changing receiver that instills fear in opposing defenses, something he remembers preparing for during his many years in the league.

"It’s what we talk about as a defense: ‘Who do we have to game plan for? … I think that’s the thing where, week to week and you walk up to a game as a defender, when that game’s coming up and you’re looking ahead. Cincinnati: ‘Like, oh, alright, we gotta deal with (Tee) Higgins and (Ja’Marr) Chase. Let’s talk about what we’re gonna do to defend this team.’ Back in my day, years and years ago, you play Detroit: ‘Oh, they got Calvin Johnson, how are we gonna handle him?’ … When teams used to play us: ‘How are we gonna handle (Rob Gronkowski)?'"

He makes a good point, one that has been repeatedly discussed before and after the draft especially. Most anticipated the Patriots would make a big splash in free agency to acquire a top receiver, especially as the rumors about the team's interest in DeAndre Hopkins and Jerry Jeudy began taking off. But as those rumors seemed to be put to rest, there was hope Belichick would snag one of the top pass-catchers in this year's draft in the first round.

That didn't happen either, leaving many wondering how much of an upgrade did the offense make this offseason, even if it does appear better than last season.

McCourty also discussed that, expressing he believes the Bill O'Brien hire is the most significant improvement overall. However, since the AFC East is now considered one of, if not the top division in the league with the addition of Aaron Rodgers to the Jets, he wonders if the Patriots have done enough to truly be a competitive team this fall.

"I do think they’re a better team than the way we ended last season. I think Billy O’Brien makes a big difference on offense. I think that helps, but the question is, does it matter if you’re better but the division’s better, everyone else is better? I think that’s what it comes down to, is this a playoff-winning team? Not just get to the playoffs, but is this team good enough to win a playoff game?"

It is true that the division has done a complete turnaround since Tom Brady was on the team. During those 20 years, the Patriots dominated their division and the conference, but they're now being touted as the fourth-best team in the East.

Although that may be true throughout the season, jumping to that conclusion in May is a bit dramatic. Plenty of teams look great on paper but don't perform well once on the field.

Plenty of things can happen between now and the start of the season. We are yet to see how the Patriots will look once practicing together, which gave us an unfortunate insight last year that never seemed to get any better. Hopefully, that won't be the case this year because of all the positive changes made to the team this offseason.