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2020 NFL free agency: What re-signing special teams ace Matthew Slater means for the Patriots

Related: Patriots reportedly reach two-year extension with captain Matthew Slater

New England Patriots v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ list of players scheduled to enter free agency next week got a little bit shorter on Friday: Matthew Slater becomes the first of New England’s 19 free-agents-to-be to agree to a new deal with the club. The special teams captain, who spent his entire 12-year career so far with the Patriots, will reportedly stay with the organization on a newly signed contract extension that runs through the 2021 season.

Bringing Slater back is a good decision from the team’s perspective. Why? Let’s find out:

New England’s kick coverage units will remain intact at the top

Slater’s return means that the Patriots will keep one of the best gunner duos in the NFL intact: together with in-season addition Justin Bethel, he played some outstanding football over the second half of the 2019 season and was a big reason why its special teams units consistently contributed to the club winning the field-position battle. On the year, Slater registered 10 tackles in the kicking game, forced a fumble and recovered another, and blocked punt — all while also scoring the first touchdown of his career.

Despite both Slater and Bethel being on the wrong side of 30 in 2020, more of the same productivity should be expected out of the two this upcoming season. After all, they have not shown any signs of slowing down and will also be supported by another terrific kick coverage player: Brandon King, who missed all of last year due to a quad injury, is well on his way to return to the field and will force opponents to to pick their poison.

Retaining Slater will not have too big of an impact on the Patriots’ salary cap

New England is entering the final weekend before free agency with an expected salary cap space of around $29.07 million, according to cap guru Miguel Benzan. Slater’s extension will naturally cut into this number once it becomes official, but his impact on the Patriots’ financial flexibility will still likely be relatively limited. After all, Miguel projected that his cap number will “only” be around $2.2-$2.45 million depending on whether or not a new CBA gets ratified in the upcoming days and the league’s “30 percent rule” stays in place.

Given that the whole league is operating under the top-51 rule during the offseason — meaning that only the 51st largest cap hits are actually counted at the moment — Slater’s net impact on the Patriots’ books might be as little as $1.7-$1.9 million: his contract will push a lower-level player with a cap hit of around $510,000 off the top-51 list.

The Patriots’ locker room will keep one of its most vocal players

Slater’s impact on the field is well documented: on top of being a three-time Super Bowl winner, he also is an eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro selection. However, his role within New England’s locker room cannot be underestimated either. After all, he has been voted a team captain every year since 2011 and also serves as the club’s representative at the NFL Players Association.

With the Patriots facing an uncertain future in regards to some other leaders on the team — fellow team captains Tom Brady and Devin McCourty are both also unrestricted free agents — keeping the 34-year-old around is certainly good for a team that will have to undergo a gradual rebuild in the coming years.