New England Patriots

Kyle Dugger #35 of the New England Patriots warms up before the game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Patriots safety Patrick Chung announced his retirement on March 18, freeing up No. 23 for any New England player to scoop up. Despite him no longer being on the roster, youngster Kyle Dugger called Chung to ask for permission to rep his former number.

“It was simple, he just asked me,” Chung told reporters over the weekend while attending a New England Free Jacks rugby match. Chung is a minority owner of the team. “I was like, ‘is that what you want?’ He goes, ‘that was the plan.’ I said, ‘alright take it, just make sure you take over.’ That was it.”

A simple conversation, but a meaningful one. It is common for players to ask other players to wear certain numbers. However, that is usually when the player is still active. It’s not every day that a current player dials up a retiree.

“That shows respect,” Chung said. “A lot of people don’t have to ask. If it’s open, they’ll take it. For him to call me and ask when he didn’t have to, I appreciate that.”

Chung also showed his appreciated for Dugger on Twitter, sending this tweet in late May:

The Patriots drafted Dugger in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The defensive back is coming off of his rookie season, where he donned No. 35. He played in 14 games, tallying 64 tackles and allowing 24 completions on 33 targets. Dugger was not the best DB on the field in New England, but he showed signs of possibly becoming that ‘savage’ that Chung wants him to be.

“I think he’s going to be really good. I mean he’s young, he’s raw, he has the size, he has the instincts,” Chung said. “He’s a good player. Hopefully he can be great and hopefully better than me. I really, truly hope for that.”

Surpassing Chung is easier said than done. The safety was also a second round pick and played 12 seasons in the NFL. He won three Super Bowls in New England and was named to the Patriots’ 2010s All-Decade team.

Dugger has maintained a relationship with Chung since being drafted by the Patriots last year, despite Chung opting out of the season.  Back in May, Dugger told reporters he has tried to model his game after the man whose number he now wears.

The Patriots begin training camp July 28, with their first game scheduled for Sept. 12.