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2022 NFL free agency: Matthew Slater will cost the Patriots just a fraction of his full contract value

Related: Matthew Slater ‘wasn’t going to go anywhere else’ in free agency

New England Patriots v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

One year after handing out $159.6 million in guarantees, the New England Patriots have taken a quieter approach to free agency. This year, their focus has been on maximizing value through lower-profile outside additions and re-signing some of their core players.

Long-time team captain Matthew Slater is part of the latter group. He was brought back on a one-year contract earlier this week at a reported total value of $2.62 million — all of which fully guaranteed.

In detail, the pact can be broken down as follows:

  • Base salary: $2.47 million
  • Signing bonus: $152,500

As can be seen, Slater’s deal is pretty straight forward with no incentives or roster bonuses are part of the deal. He will play on a $2.47 million this season and was also given a $152,500 signing bonus. As noted above, all of that is fully guaranteed.

Despite the nature of the contract, however, it will only hit the Patriots’ salary cap with a fraction of its total cost.

How comes? Article 27, Section 7 of the 2020 NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement gives us the answer to that question: let’s get to meet the so-called Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract.

We will not bother you with the verbatim definition as laid out in the CBA, but rather share a tl:dr what such a contract is and why the Patriots were able to use it in Slater’s case. So, here it goes: if a player has been with the team four four or more continuous and uninterrupted years upon his contract’s expiration, he qualifies for a one-year deal that will only partially be counted versus his team’s salary cap.

In Slater’s case, this essentially means that not all of his fully-guaranteed contract is actually hitting New England’s books. Per the CBA, the Patriots are allowed to allocate $1.35 million that way and put it on top of the minimum salary for a player of his experience.

The contract details as provided above can therefore be split up even further:

  • Minimum salary: $1.12 million
  • Four-year player salary: $1.35 million
  • Signing bonus: $152,500

The total value of the contract remains the same — it is still a fully guaranteed $2.62 million — but Slater’s impact on the Patriots’ salary cap is therefore only $1.27 million: the minimum salary plus his signing bonus is all that is counted.

“They weren’t very difficult. We’re not negotiating an $80 million contract here,” Slater said on Thursday about his contract talks with the Patriots.

As his contract shows, however, there can be a lot more to an NFL deal than the numbers show at first glance. Because of that, New England is able to keep its most experienced player on a bargain price.