After Tom Brady left the Patriots after the 2019 season, many started to look over the roster and realize how many of the most legendary players during the dynasty years were likely on their way out as well. Losing Rob Gronkowski (to a fake retirement) and then Brady was hard enough. But then came Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Julian Edelman, and most recently, Devin McCourty.
It was a domino effect that was expected, but a difficult few years for many Patriots fans to accept.
All were significant parts of the team's success over the years, becoming fan favorites for their performance on the field in the biggest games and their loyalty to New England for much, if not all, of their careers.
That is a significant factor that made McCourty's retirement even more devastating for those who love New England football, even more so knowing how impactful he was in the locker room and games. But given the trajectory the Patriots appeared to be on after the 2022 season, it was hard to question the safety's decision to finally hang up his cleats.
Until last week, McCourty never really discussed if that played a role in his decision to retire. He discussed it at length during an appearance on WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show." He tried downplaying the Patriots' inevitable challenging season having any sort of influence on the decision, but his constant mention of playing in the Super Bowl makes it seem otherwise.
"I definitely thought it was going to be a tough season. Overall, I just didn’t think there was going to be enough … So coming off last year to think we would be a contender in 2023? No. But in my overall decision, I would say no because I was kind of done no matter what.
I could have easily said I don’t want to play in New England, but I could go play elsewhere and maybe had a chance to win a Super Bowl. But I think overall for me I was at the stage where football was done."
McCourty has been vocal about how tough last year was for the entire team during the Matt Patricia experiment, noting it wasn't just the offense that felt ready for the coach to move on. So, after living through that season and missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, it makes sense that an accomplished player like him would have little desire to continue playing.
He reiterated that point while also sharing his belief that the Patriots are still some years away from being a contender, something that may have swayed his decision if they had a chance this year.
"When you play a season and you’ve been on Super Bowl teams, you know like ‘alright, this team is close, I’ve played on teams where we didn’t go to the Super Bowl or we might have lost but I’m like, ‘man, next year we’re going to have a chance.’ I still think this team is a few years away from having a chance to get back into being contenders."
He's 100% right in his evaluation of the current team, and they could end up being further away from that type of success, depending on how the offseason goes. They could be in the market for a new head coach, general manager, and quarterback, three essential pieces to any successful team.
If that's the case, and considering the resume he put together during his 13-year career, it's hard to blame the guy for not wanting to play during a rebuild that's seemingly taking years to unfold.
Although he's not entirely shocked to see the team with a losing record at this stage in the season, McCourty didn't feel they would be playing as poorly as they have been. He doubled down on his mindset that playing on a team headed nowhere near a Super Bowl is kind of pointless, mentioning his age as a big factor he considered when deciding to move on.
"I didn’t think they would be 2-7 right now. But, I think overall, I was going to be 36 this year. If I’m not playing for a Super Bowl, then what’s the point of putting my body through more pain? They have a ways to go, but I think they still have the leadership under Bill to get that done in the future."
It's interesting that he mentions Bill Belichick being a reason for the eventual success in the coming years. This was said before the team's latest loss to the Colts on Sunday, so perhaps his opinion may have changed since then, especially with rumors swirling even more about the head coach's job security in New England.
But if Belichick does remain part of the organization next year, it seems a bit early to suggest he could be the right leader to get them back on track when recent history has proven otherwise.