I honestly thought it was time for me to leave New England.
Going into free agency, I was thinking that at this stage in my career, I was ready for a change. I mean, I love New England. But after 10 years and winning three Super Bowls, something inside was telling me that I was ready for a new challenge. And I thought I might have to go elsewhere to find it.
Then my brother’s option got picked up, and the first thing I thought about was Week 3 of last season. We had just beaten the Jets at home in Foxborough. My mom had driven up from Jersey, like she does for every home game, and my brother, our wives and kids were there, too. So the whole family was there. And after the game — after the whole stadium had emptied out and we were the only ones left and the sun was going down — the adults watched as the kids ran around on the field for like an hour, just going crazy and having the time of their lives.
And there was this moment where I kind of zoomed out on the whole thing — the kids, my mom, having my brother there — and it was like, Man … THIS is what it’s all about.
And as much as I wanted a new challenge in my career, I also told myself from the jump that if there was an opportunity to play with my brother again, I would take it. I’ve had more fun playing alongside him these last two years than I have in my entire career. We hadn’t played together since college. Now he lives across the street from me. So even with all this social distancing, he’s still right there with me. Our kids play together. He and I even ride to the stadium together on game day. It’s funny because when we walk in, if we’re wearing even remotely the same colors, guys will be like, “We get it: You’re twins. Do you have to do everything together?”
And we look at each other, then back at them, and we’re like, “Uhhh … yeah.”
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So I got what I wanted: I get to play with my brother again. We’re keeping the family together.
But it’s kind of ironic because I’m also getting the other thing I wanted — something I thought I’d have to leave New England to find.
A new challenge.
Let’s be honest: We’ve had it pretty good during my 10 years in New England. We’ve had Bill. We’ve had Tom. We’ve had a pretty consistent roster without a lot of turnover. That’s why this off-season feels so crazy. You see guys like Kyle, Nate, Jamie, Duron and others move on, and it definitely feels different. Especially with Tom leaving.
It’s like you’re sad that these guys are gone, because you love them and those are your guys. But at the same time, you can’t help but be excited for them.
You’re excited for a guy like Kyle Van Noy, who was basically written off as a second-round bust when he was in Detroit. Now he’s a two-time Super Bowl champion and just got a big contract in Miami.You love them and those are your guys. But at the same time, you can’t help but be excited for them.
You’re excited for Nate Ebner, who was such a huge contributor on special teams and on defense. And you hope that he has all the opportunity and success in the world in New York.
You’re excited for Jamie Collins, even though deep down you’re like, Dang, Jamie’s gone AGAIN? It’s all love and you’re wishing him the best.
You’re excited for Duron Harmon — which is a tough one for me personally because he’s a Rutgers guy and we hung out every day. He’s truly my guy. And that’s the selfish part, you know? Wishing he was still here with us, but still being so excited for the opportunity he has to start in Detroit and for his career to really take off.
Then you got Tom.
I mean, I found out about Tom leaving the same way y’all did. On Twitter. But I kind of knew when we got closer to free agency and he didn’t have a deal done that he wasn’t coming back. It’s still a little surreal because … it’s TOM, you know? He’s been here 20 years. He’s won six rings. He’s the greatest to ever do it. So it definitely won’t be the same now that he’s gone.
But honestly, I’m happy for him. He’s earned the right to finish his career wherever he wants and chase whatever he feels like he needs to chase.
I’m just glad he’s doing it in the NFC. 🤣🤣🤣
David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images
When I hit free agency this off-season, I thought back to when my brother was a free agent the year before. His kids told him, “Dad, you gotta stay. We just won a Super Bowl. We can’t leave. We don’t want to go back to losing!”
Kids call it like they see it, man. Jmac had never made the playoffs before coming to New England. And even though his kids are young and they don’t understand everything that’s going on, they know the difference between winning and losing.
And to them, like a lot of people, that’s what New England stands for.
That’s the Patriot Way, right?
But what people don’t understand about New England is that it’s not just about winning. It’s about everything else, too. It’s about the work. It’s about being better men. I think that every guy who has come through New England would say that he gained a lot of knowledge and experience that made him a better football player. But they also learned what it means to be a better teammate, a better husband and a better father. I think cultivating that kind of atmosphere is something we take a lot of pride in here.
I remember before the 2018 season, Kobe Bryant came to speak to the team. And let me tell you: He was about as blunt as they come. He was damn near cursing us out.
Now, it’s been a while, so I’m paraphrasing, but basically what he said was:
“Everybody keeps talking about my f***ing legacy — 20 years in L.A., five titles — and how great all that is. But I don’t give a damn about that. My legacy is my kids. It’s not what I did during my 20 years in L.A., it’s what I do in the next 20 years. That’s what people are going to remember me for. That’s what they’re going to talk about forever.”
He was going in.
It was truly inspiring.
But I think my biggest takeaway was something he said near the end of his talk. He spoke about how he had to learn to be great at basketball, but then he had to learn to be a great dad at the same time. He talked about taking the same energy that he chased championships with, then going home and giving that same kind of energy to his wife and kids.
And I’ll never forget: I wrote that down in my notebook immediately and circled it like 10 times. I’ve thought a lot about it since, too. Pretty much every day.
Because like I said: For me, it really is all about family.
And when it comes to staying in New England, it’s not just me and my brother and our family. It’s about our extended family, too.
Our Patriots family.
From the fans, to the people in the community we work with trying to make an impact in people’s lives, to everybody up and down the organization … these last 10 years have been incredible. So much of my development as a football player and as a man has been here in New England, and it’s an honor to hopefully be able to finish my career here and be a Patriot for life.
Jim Mahoney/AP Photo
People are going to say that because Tom’s gone, the dynasty is over. They’re already burying us, far as I can tell. And that’s fine. Let ’em. We’ve never listened to the noise, and we’re not about to start now. But the task is definitely taller this coming year than it has been in years past. There’s more work to do. And it’s not gonna be so easy this time around.
That’s where the new challenge comes in.
I thought I had to leave New England to find what I was looking for. But it turns out that there is no greater challenge for me right now than leading this Patriots team into a new era and helping ensure that this next wave of players can continue our legacy and build on what we’ve already achieved as a franchise.
That’s what I’m most excited about moving forward.
So thanks for all your love and support, New England. I don’t know what the future holds in this new era of Patriots football, but what I can promise you is that we’re going to work. That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve always done. And no matter who comes and goes, that’s one thing that will always stay the same.
See you in training camp.