FOXBORO -- The Patriots should re-sign Devin McCourty now.
The Patriots have their stars on defense who have become household names like Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones. They've added cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.
Wilfork is more than capable of keeping his defensive line in check and in step. Mayo, presuming he's all the way back from his pectoral injury, leads the linebackers.
Edge rusher Rob Ninkovich and linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower are certainly integral to applying pressure, either on the pass or run.
But when it comes to holding a group together, no one means more than McCourty means to keeping the new-look secondary on the same page. And Belichick knows this. Revis and Browner were brought in this offseason as shutdown playmakers on the edge. But without McCourty out on the field directing traffic, as he was in May and June, their transition would be a lot more difficult.
If the Patriots are to establish their defense as one of the best in the AFC, capable of controlling teams like Peyton Manning's Broncos, they need both hitting the ground running. And they need McCourty calling signals this season, and beyond. McCourty's value comes in his familiarity with what Belichick expects from his secondary. Belichick wants someone who can communicate and lead. McCourty has proven he can do both.
McCourty's contract is up at the end of the season, during which he is due to make $3.92 million as a base salary at a cap cost of $5.115 million. The Boston Herald reported in June that the Patriots reached out to McCourty in an effort to begin extension talks but those efforts didn't go very far. On Wednesday, the Herald reported that the team has yet to reach out to McCourty since that initial contact. It would be natural for this to be on the mind of any athlete but McCourty says he's not one of them.
"No, you just play football," McCourty insisted Wednesday on the eve of his fifth NFL training camp. "Contract year isn't what everyone else talks about. For a player, it's just another year in the league. For me, it's my fifth year in the league. I still want to get better."
Critics will make the case that McCourty is just another ordinary defensive back, whose interceptions numbers have dropped off significantly in the last three seasons from a career-high seven in his rookie season of 2010, bottoming out at just one interception in 2013. You don't pay big money without big numbers on defense.
"I still try to look at myself just as a football player," McCourty said. "I always feel like you never know what can happen. Being able to play safety and corner has helped me in my career so far, so I don't think I should get to a point where I should lose one of them. Just continue to focus on getting better as a football player. [In the offseason], I'm always doing drills and stuff for both just to stay fresh and be a complete football player.
"I think like Ninko [Rob Ninkovich] was saying, as you get older and year-by-year, you just want to continue to get better using what you've learned mentally and get better physically. Luckily for me, I'm not as old as Ninko. He's 30, so I still have time to improve physically and get bigger, faster and stronger."
The 26-year-old McCourty laughs but he knows the Patriots and Belichick are serious about keeping him around. Since being moved full-time to safety last season, he's proven that he can handle the responsibility of calling signals in the secondary.
In Revis and Browner, you have two stud shutdown corners who will be spending training camp assimilating everything they learned in OTAs and June minicamp in high-speed reps.
Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon are second-year defensive backs, who like McCourty, were drafted out of Rutgers as corners. Harmon could be joining McCourty in making a switch to safety soon.
Nickel corner Kyle Arrington and returning safety Patrick Chung are veterans familiar with the Patriot system. Alfonzo Dennard is a third-year corner talent who still needs to prove that he's consistently reliable on and off the field. While Dennard was absent during OTAs and minicamp, Safety Tavon Wilson showed glimpses of playmaking that made him a second-round pick out of Illinois in 2012.
That's a lot of different personalities and talent to mesh, and all of them look up to McCourty. Now, it's McCourty's time to lead them, including Revis and Browner.
I asked McCourty Wednesday if he's shares that same sentiment and perspective.
"Yeah, somewhat," he began. "I try to take some leadership role and with some new guys back there and some younger guys, I try to make sure that my experience is felt throughout the secondary just from being here for so long now where myself, Kyle [Arrington], two guys that have been here for a good amount of time. We can step up and help guys out, get guys in the right position.
"I think that's key when you're trying to develop a good secondary, is have guys that go out there and try to line people up and get everybody set. I think that can be a key to our success and especially early in the season when guys are still learning, still seeing some things for the first time. When you have some guys that have seen some things and seen a good amount of football in this defense, it's key. You can help guys out and get them right."
Get them right. That's exactly what Belichick is looking for as a leader in the film room and on the practice field. It's why McCourty became a trusted team captain in just his second season. It's a title he held for the '11 and '12 seasons before not being tabbed for the honor before last season. Injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo left a void of on-field leadership and McCourty was reinstated as a captain in October.
McCourty is a natural leader. Ask anyone that has ever worked with McCourty in the film room and they will tell you he speaks up at the right time, all the time.
"He gets everyone on the same page," Aqib Talib said late last season as the Patriots secondary was evolving into playoff form. "He knows where everyone needs to be as good as anybody and we listen to him."
"Just be vocal," McCourty said Wednesday. "Try to help guys, whether it's on the field or off the field, when we come in and watch film, even when we are installing some things, putting it in. Just try to give a guy a heads up of what we could see out there. But a lot of times it's just the work that we have to put in, whether it's in the film room or on the practice field.
"Sometimes there's really no way to speed it up; it just has to get done the old-fashion way at practice working hard and honestly this time of year, just working hard through mistakes. Mistakes are going to happen. Sometimes it's just the repetition, keep doing it and it gets better over time."
So has McCourty. He has not become the ball hawk that he showed in his rookie season when he had seven interceptions. As a matter of fact, he only had one last season. But his value goes far beyond that. Last season, he was voted to the second-team All-Pro squad in his first full season as safety.
He's being asked to do much more than just cover receivers. He's being asked to quarterback a secondary that has the potential to be as deep and talented as any the Patriots have ever had under Belichick. At only 26, he figures to be the leader of that talented group for the foreseeable future. Now all the Patriots have to do is sign him.