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Free agent Kyle Van Noy views himself in mold of Tyrann Mathieu

It's easy to forget, given all of the attention on Tom Brady, that this year marks a pivotal point in the careers for multiple key Patriots players who are just days from unrestricted free agency.

Safety Devin McCourty, linebacker Jamie Collins, special-teams ace and team captain Matthew Slater, guard Joe Thuney and linebacker Kyle Van Noy are among those wondering if their time in New England is up. Which makes one wonder, given the interest in Brady's next move from those in the league and the football-loving world, are those players tracking the Brady situation, too?

Or more to the point, are they waiting for that domino to drop?

"It is interesting, but I'm going to be honest, I want to be a priority for a team and I feel I have to go where someone is going to make me a priority," Van Noy said by phone this week. "I'm sure New England knows that. If that opportunity comes, it comes.

"I'll be frank, I don't see myself waiting around. I'm pretty sure those guys aren't going to wait around either. They're really good at their craft. They're at the top of the league at their position so it'll be interesting."

So while other free-agent quarterbacks are somewhat at the mercy of Brady's ultimate decision, the players who have won titles with Brady, and know they'll likely have a better shot at winning another if they remain his teammate, can make quick decisions on their future with the free-agent negotiating window set to open on Monday afternoon.

It'll be a new experience for Van Noy, a second-round pick of the Lions in 2014 whom Detroit traded to the Pats in 2016. One year later, Van Noy signed a two-year contract extension. Now, he's headed to free agency for the first time in his career.

Van Noy, who will be an in-studio guest on NFL Network's NFL Total Access on Wednesday evening (6 p.m. ET), said he has yet to have any discussions with the Patriots about a new deal ("I'm sure they're waiting for Tom," he said), so it appears he'll get the chance to negotiate with other teams. And that's where it'll get interesting in a market that often rewards specialized players.

Pass rushers get paid. Speed receivers get paid. Nickel corners have been rewarded handsomely in recent years.

But what about a guy like Van Noy?

The Lions shipped him to New England because they couldn't figure out what to do with him. The Pats welcomed him and saw him as a guy who can do everything. And so, over the course of three-plus seasons, he's done it all for the Pats -- run stopping and tackling in space (a career-high 92 tackles in 2018), pass coverage (nine passes defensed as a Patriot after only one as a Lion) and attacking the quarterback (a career-high 6.5 sacks this past season after being moved to a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role).

Van Noy has also been a signal-caller for New England. In fact, he was entrusted with the responsibility of wearing the green dot on his helmet only three weeks into his stint with the team.

"That's been the main topic for me: What's your position?" Van Noy said. "But like I tell everybody, how good of a football player do you want? Someone who can do it all? I don't want a position.

"I kind of view myself in the Tyrann Mathieu mold. Obviously, we play different positions but he's a football player. I view myself the same way. I can play on the ball, off the ball, I can drop into coverage, I can rush the passer, I can do every single thing you want."

Coincidentally, one of the teams that might put a high stock on a versatile player like Van Noy is Detroit. After all, Lions head coach Matt Patricia was the one who put the play-call speaker in Van Noy's helmet early in his tenure as a Patriot.

There's also former Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores, now in his role of head coach of the Dolphins. Throw in Giants coach Joe Judge, a former Patriots special-teams coach, and there are a few branches off the Bill Belichick tree on which Van Noy could land. Plus, he's not ruling out a return to New England.

"It's pretty funny going from being hurt and playing a little bit in Detroit to making calls for the best team in the league. It was a big blessing," Van Noy said. "I'm happy about my time there. I hope it's not done but business is business and it'll be done as it goes."

The same could be said about Brady. And while Van Noy, like many in and around the NFL, will be keeping an eye on the six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, he's not nudging his teammate to find out Brady's next move.

"Me personally, I haven't talked to Tom, no. There's levels," Van Noy said with a laugh, joking about Brady's legendary status. "No, Tom's great. I'm sure if I reached out to him, he'd chit-chat any day. ... Me and Tom have a good relationship. I hope nothing but the best for him and just want him to make the best decision for his family.

"He deserves a lot. He's done a lot for the league and for New England."

Follow Mike Garafolo on Twitter @MikeGarafolo.

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