New England Patriots

Who Is the New Face of the Patriots?

In a post-Tom Brady world, who do you think of first when you think of the Patriots?

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Friday had become Tom Brady's day over the last few seasons.

While Sunday was his day to shine on the football field, Friday afternoon was Brady's weekly media availability at Gillette Stadium. The sessions generally never revealed much, but they almost always created speculation as to Brady's happiness within the walls of Fort Foxboro.

In hindsight, Brady's terse, relatively short pressers throughout 2019 were indeed just another clue as to his growing discontent in New England.

After Tom Brady said he won't be returning to the New England Patriots, his teammates took to Twitter to offer congratulations while understanding fans took to the streets.

Reading between the lines about Brady's future on Friday afternoons had a good run. Nearly as impressive as his 20-year run of success at quarterback for the Patriots.

Brady's departure creates a void for far more than his Friday afternoon press sessions, of course.

Somebody else is going to have to step into that role, just as someone else is going to become the last one out of the locker room and onto the field. Someone else is going to shine on billboards across New England, someone else is going to appear on game day programs, and heck, someone else might even become the new top-selling jersey in the Greater Boston Area.

"My football journey will take place elsewhere," Tom Brady said in a tweet on Tuesday. Last week his fans recalled their favorite moments of his from nearly two decades as a Patriot.

Replacing Brady at quarterback is going to present its own set of challenges, a problem we'll tackle later on. For now, we'll take a look at who is the most logical candidate to replace Brady as the "face of the franchise," a completely subjective title that in the grand scheme of things, matters little.

For now, there are three ideal candidates on New England's roster to step in for Brady, a trio of players who come with a combined 33 seasons under Bill Belichick. There's no right or wrong answer, but the question must be asked: which player is now the first to come to mind when you think of the New England Patriots?

Julian Edelman

So much of Edelman's success is a credit to both Brady and Belichick, the latter of whom stuck with him after four up-and-down seasons at the beginning of his career after being drafted in the seventh round in 2009.

Edelman has gone on to be much more than a gadget player who Wally Pipped Wes Welker and occasionally played defense, of course. It's borderline criminal that Edelman, who now has four seasons of at least 90 catches and three seasons of at least 1,000 yards, has never garnered a Pro Bowl berth.

When it comes to a signature moment for Edelman, three immediately stand out: his circus catch against the Falcons on the game-tying drive in Super Bowl LI; his go-ahead touchdown catch along the goal line against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX; and his touchdown pass to Danny Amendola in the 2014 divisional round against the Ravens.

The complete story of Edelman can't be told without his four-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs in 2018, though he's hardly the first NFL icon to have that blemish on his resume.

Ultimately, Edelman's status as a late-round pick who had to scrap just to stay on the roster early in his career is a story arc not all that different from Brady's.

Matthew Slater

Like Brady, Slater is arguably the best ever at his position. Sure, there's not quite as much glamour in being the greatest special teams ace of all-time as quarterback, but it's a throne Slater's surely ascended to after his eighth Pro Bowl and second First Team All-Pro nod in 2019.

The longest tenured Patriot, Slater's rookie season was in 2008, the last time New England played the majority of its season without Brady under center. Who better to help the team navigate these murky waters than the only other guy who's lived it?

Coming up with a signature moment for Slater is tough. Every punt he's helped down inside the 5 is great and all, as is his lone career catch vs. the Dolphins in 2011 and his lone career touchdown off a blocked punt vs. the Bills last season.

It's the virtually unprecedented consistency of Slater in an oft-overlooked role that separate him from the pack, however. Remember how good Larry Izzo was on special teams for the Patriots earlier this century? Slater has now outlasted Izzo, who played eight seasons in New England, by five years -- and five more Pro Bowl appearances.

Devin McCourty

Is McCourty the best first round draft pick Bill Belichick has made in his tenure in Foxboro? He's at the very least in the discussion, along with Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour.

Assuming there's a 2020 season of sorts, it'll be McCourty's 11th with the Patriots, matching him with Wilfork for the most seasons a first-round pick has lasted in New England under Belichick.

Like Slater, coming up with a signature moment for McCourty is surprisingly difficult. He has "only" 26 interceptions in 10 seasons, with one just one defensive touchdown. McCourty has been named to just two Pro Bowls in his career, one of them way back in his rookie year at cornerback.

Which, if you think about it, is part of what makes McCourty's story so great. Following a rookie season in which he finished tied for second in the NFL in interceptions, with seven, McCourty regressed badly in 2011, to the point he moved back to safety for this third NFL season -- much, much earlier in a career than when most cornerbacks would slide back.

He's been as steady as they come ever since, patrolling the secondary as the spine of three championship teams. Bringing McCourty back was paramount following the departure of not only Brady, but several others on the defensive side of the ball for the Patriots.

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