There will be a lot of familiar faces on the Titans sidelines when the Patriots meet them in Nashville for a week 10 matchup on Sunday. Tennessee has a number of former Patriots, making this one of the more fun (and probably awkward) games of the 2018 season for New England.
Head coach Mike Vrabel, offensive lineman Josh Kline, running back Dion Lewis, and cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are all ex-Patriots. Jason McCourty used to be a member of the Tennessee Titans.
– The Patriots signed Kline as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2012 NFL draft. He played three seasons in New England, appearing in 33 games. He signed with Tennessee prior to the 2016 season. Kline never had a huge impact on the Patriots, spending his time on the team as a backup lineman.
– Lewis played three seasons in New England after being signed by the Patriots in 2015. He burst out onto the scene and dominated as part of the New England’s offense before tearing his ACL. He had a decent season in 2016 as he returned to the field, helping the team to a victory in Super Bowl 51. Lewis became the team’s lead back in 2017 and was instrumental in making the Patriots offense one of the best in the league. He signed a four year, $20 million deal with the Titans this past offseason.
– The Patriots drafted Ryan in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft. He played in New England for four years and played in every single game for the Patriots over that time. He was arguably the Patriots best tackler over that span and developed into an impressive cover cornerback. Ryan contributed to the Patriots wins in both Super Bowl 49 and 51. After the 2016 season, Ryan signed a three year, $30 million deal with the Titans.
– Malcolm Butler, the Super Bowl hero/Super Bowl scratch, was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2014 NFL draft. He played in 11 regular season games that year, before becoming a New England legend. His interception of Russell Wilson in the end zone will forever be one of the most important plays in Super Bowl lore, and NFL, history. Butler would then take a massive leap forward, starting in all but one regular season game over the next three seasons. He quickly became regarded as one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL with his aggressive playing style. He contributed markedly to the Patriots 2016 Super Bowl team.
His time in New England came to an awkward and frustrating end. Butler did not play in Super Bowl 52, despite how bad the Patriots defensive backs were playing. For reasons that are still unclear, Belichick benched his star cornerback. That sealed the end of his time in New England. Over this past offseason, he signed a five year, $61 million contract with the Titans.
– Mike Vrabel played eight seasons in New England and contributed to the Patriots first three Super Bowls. He was also a major piece in New England’s 2007 super team. Vrabel played a part in some of the most memorable plays in Patriots’ playoff history. These include his two sacks against the Panthers in Super Bowl 38, as well as his touchdown reception against the Eagles in Super Bowl 39. The Patriots traded Vrabel to the Chiefs after the 2008 season.
Vrabel became a coach after his retirement. After spending three years with Ohio State, the Texans hired Vrabel as a linebackers coach in 2014. In 2017 he was named the defensive coordinator for the Texans. He had success in his first year, which prompted him to be hired as the head coach of the Titans this past offseason.
– The Titans drafted Jason McCourty in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL draft. He played eight years in Nashville, with some extremely productive seasons. In 2011 he had two interceptions to go along with 105 total tackles. The following year he led the team with four interceptions. The Titans cut McCourty prior to the 2017 season. The cornerback signed with the Browns and had a solid year before the Patriots swapped sixth and seventh round picks for McCourty this past offseason.
Vrabel’s connection to the Patriots and Bill Belichick is one of the most interesting storylines of this week. Vrabel has always been a player that Belichick spoke highly of. He practiced and played extremely hard, something that Belichick appreciates. Vrabel is also a fan favorite of Tom Brady, who fondly remembers competing intensely with Vrabel during practice. The former linebacker has seemingly taken a lot with him from New England, from his aggressive style of defensive to his no-nonsense attitude. While he is not technically part of Belichick’s “coaching tree”, it is still very interesting to see how the Hooded One has influenced the way that Vrabel handles himself as a head coach today.
Seeing the players interact in pregame warmups will also be fun to watch. There are usually never hard feelings in situations like this. Players are generally happy for one another if they move on. This happened earlier this season when Danny Amendola returned to Foxboro. Brady has a lot of respect for Lewis, and Ryan remains close friends with the McCourty brothers. Seeing them all together will be a good reminder that they are all people too and that some connections go far beyond the football field.
Fun Fact: Belichick has coached against former assistants numerous times throughout his career (Nick Saban, Eric Mangini, Matt Patricia, etc.). Sunday will be the first time that the opposing head coach is a former player.