Devin McCourty: Brady's Departure an Opportunity for Others to Step Up

Devin McCourty knows the New England Patriots can't replace Tom Brady's leadership.

But he also insists the drop-off won't be as steep as you think.

The Patriots safety already believes his team will play with a chip on its shoulder after Brady left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, with players eager to prove they can (partially) fill TB12's leadership void.

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McCourty elaborated on that belief to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer while providing valuable context: Brady's departure means different things to different players.

"It's an opportunity for guys like James White, David Andrews, guys who've been offensive captains the last two to three years," McCourty told Breer. "They've been leaders, but no one cared about the captains on offense other than Tom. Now they get to step up and be different kinds of leaders.

"The effect it had on me when [Vince] Wilfork left, and [Jerod] Mayo retired, for me, as a defensive player, those guys were even bigger figures than Tom. When I was younger, I was scared to mess up, because that's Wilfork there and you didn't want to let him down. And then I remember when Mayo left, it was, who the hell's gonna be the leader? I stepped up, [Dont'a] Hightowear stepped up. And I'm excited to see how that plays out on offense."

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Wilfork and Mayo both were Brady-type figures for the Patriots' defense. But when their tenures eventually ended, the unit adapted, with younger players like McCourty and Hightower taking the leadership mantle.

That transition hasn't been too bumpy: New England has won two Super Bowls since Wilfork and Mayo left in 2014 and 2015, respectively, while the Patriots boasted the NFL's best defense last season.

Brady obviously was central to those Super Bowl titles and will be harder to replace than any departure of the past 20 years.

McCourty has a point, though: Life in New England will go on, and the "next generation" of Patriots like Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Hightower and (possibly?) Jarrett Stidham will determine the club's success in 2020 and beyond.

"We've lost guys before," McCourty added. "Nobody of Brady's stature, but what are we supposed to do? Throw the whole season in the tank?

"We'll all see that as a challenge. This season won't be like it was. He's the best player in the history of the league and he's leaving, so it's not gonna be the same. But I'm excited to see what it is."

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