FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots had a new No. 21 patrolling the secondary Tuesday at organized team activities, but it wasn’t a rookie or one of the team’s various veteran newcomers.
It was safety Duron Harmon, who opted this offseason to switch from No. 30 — his number for his first five NFL seasons — to No. 21, which was last worn by now-Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler.
The change allowed cornerback Jason McCourty — a fellow Rutgers alum and twin brother of Patriots safety Devin McCourty — to continue wearing No. 30, which he’d sported during stops in Tennessee and Cleveland.
But Harmon said he’d been looking for a fresh start even before McCourty was traded from the Browns to the Patriots in mid-March.
“I kind of just wanted a change,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “After the Super Bowl, I was just looking at where I was as a player, as a person, and I felt like it was a point for me to change. And I think once Jason got here, it was just kind of a voice that just let me know it was certain to be. So I just went on, gave the number to Jason, and literally, 21 was the best-looking number that we had to offer, so I just went with that.”
Though he did have an interception in Super Bowl LII, Harmon was part of a Patriots defense that was torched by Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Nick Foles. New England allowed five touchdowns and did not force a single punt in a 41-33 loss.
Then, less than two months later, Harmon suffered the greatest personal embarrassment of his pro career when Costa Rican officials found marijuana in his luggage. He was detained and sent back to the United States, and the incident made national headlines.
It was a humbling experience for the 27-year-old, who’d just completed his first season as a Patriots team captain.
“Obviously, it was a disappointment,” said Harmon, who issued a public apology on social media. “As a captain of this football team, that’s not how you want to represent this team. So it was a lot of disappointment. But the good thing from my standpoint was (the Patriots) were supportive of me. They never turned their back on me. They told me, from top to bottom, that we’re going to get through this together — ‘Obviously, it’s not something we’re proud of, but it’s something we’re going to have to get through. We’re going to be here for you the whole way.’ And they have been literally that for me. They’ve been a rock for me, along with my family and my teammates, and I’m just very, very appreciative of them.”
Harmon also said the NFL league office has not contacted him about the incident.
As for the number, Harmon said he received a generous gift from Jason McCourty in exchange for No. 30.
“He took care of me,” Harmon said. “No specifics, but he made sure that I was rewarded for the number and that my family would be good. He made sure that I could go over to the pro shop and get all my family — and probably more — some new jerseys (with) No. 21.”
And he’s sure Butler, with whom he’s stayed in touch, won’t mind.
“I don’t think he’ll be too mad about me wearing the number,” Harmon said with a smile. “I think he’d rather me have it than a rookie, so we’ll keep it that way.”
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images