The New England Patriots are coming off a season where they went 7-9 and finished in third place in the AFC East and missed the playoffs. This off-season Bill Belichick and the Patriots spent a lot of money in free agency to try to bolster their roster. They also drafted former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with the 15th pick in this year’s draft. In addition to the free agency acquisitions and draft picks, New England will also get back some key pieces, including Dont’a Hightower, after some players opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID. But some long-tenured players are no longer in New England, including Julian Edelman who announced this retirement this off-season. With all of that movement here are the faces of the 2021 New England Patriots.
2021 New England Patriots: Faces of the Team
Many of these types of lists or articles start with the team’s quarterback. But, Cam Newton, while possibly the most famous name on the roster, did not make this list because there is a really good chance he does not last the entire season as the team’s starting quarterback. Mac Jones is not on this list because he is a rookie, and he probably won’t start Week 1, even if it is likely he assumes the starting role during the season.
Stephon Gilmore almost did not make the cut to be included in this list. And the hesitation to include him had nothing to do with his play on the field. The Patriots cornerback has been phenomenal, including earning four Pro Bowl nods and two First-Team All-Pro selections as well as being named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 (the first Patriots player to do so). He has also won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots.
The issue with putting Gilly Lock on this list is the possibility of him being traded. Gilmore is in the final year of his five-year, $65 million deal and is set to make just $7 million (could total up to $7.9 million) in 2021. That is a bargain for a player of his caliber. But he ultimately had to be included given how talented he is and the fact that he is the biggest name on a talented Patriots defense. Time will tell if Gilmore is traded, but if he remains on the Patriots for the 2021 season he is one of the most important players and certainly a face of the team.
Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy joined the Patriots during the 2016 season in a trade with the Detroit Lions and spent the next three seasons in New England. He won two Super Bowls while with the Patriots and tallied 221 tackles (154 solo), 16.5 sacks, two touchdowns, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and nine passes defended in 51 games (45 starts).
He then signed with the Miami Dolphins prior to the 2020 season. But the Dolphins opted to not bring back the veteran linebacker after his lone season in Miami. The move allowed the Dolphins to save $9.8 million against the salary cap. The decision was surprising since Van Noy had inked a four-year, $51 million contract with the Dolphins last off-season, but the salary cap savings were not insignificant since the salary cap decreased.
In his only season in Miami, the former second-round pick was named a captain and played in 14 games (13 starts). In those 14 games, he had 69 tackles (46 solo), 10 tackles for loss, six sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a career-high six passes defended. This off-season the Patriots decided to bring the linebacker back to Foxborough and signed him to a two-year deal that is worth up to $13.2 million. The Patriots defense having a veteran who understands the system will be advantageous and Van Noy will be a leader in New England this season.
Safety Devin McCourty has spent his first 11 NFL seasons with the Patriots. In that time he has won three Super Bowl rings, made two Pro Bowls, is a three-time second-team All-Pro and was named as a member of the Patriots 2010s All-Decade Team. In 171 games (all starts) he has amassed 840 tackles (644 solo), 20 tackles for loss, 28 interceptions, three sacks, six fumble recoveries, and 11 forced fumbles.
But McCourty makes an impact off the field as well. He works with and frequently promotes Boston Uncornered, which “redirects the entrepreneurial, networking and leadership skills of gang-involved youth (we call Core Influencers) from violence and incarceration to obtain a college credential and family-sustaining wage-driving positive change in our neighborhoods.” He has also been on Beacon Hill lobbying the Massachusetts State Legislature to pass education reform bills like the PROMISE Act. McCourty was even named as the 2020 “Boston UnCornered Champion.”