The New England Patriots are facing plenty of questions heading towards free agency, but it appears some of them are getting answered. A growing number of veterans, for example, are planning to continue their careers.
After safety Devin McCourty and running back James White already committed to keep playing earlier during the offseason, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and special teamer Matthew Slater joined them on the list, according to NFL Network’s Mike Giardi.
Hightower, who will turn 32 on March 12, has been with the Patriots since 2012. A three-time Super Bowl winner and cornerstone of the organization’s Dynasty 2.0, he appeared in 16 of a possible 18 games last season. One year removed from opting out due to concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic, he again resumed his role as a leader both on and off the field.
Slater, 36, saw action in all 18 games during the 2021 season. While again not used at his listed position of wide receiver, he was a valuable member of New England’s special teams unit as well as a tone-setter in the locker room; he was voted a team captain for an 11th straight season. Like Hightower, the 2008 fifth-round pick is a three-time world champion. He also earned his 10th Pro Bowl nomination last year.
Slater continued to work out at Gillette Stadium heading into the offseason, per ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss.
While Hightower and Slater as well as McCourty and White continuing their careers is noteworthy, their futures still remain in question. All four of them, after all, are headed for unrestricted free agency.
Losing them would lead to a significant departure of leadership: Hightower, Slater, McCourty and White were four of the team’s five captains last year; only center David Andrews is under contract heading into the upcoming season.
Retaining some if not all of those four players would therefore be good news for a New England team still in a process of transition. Two years removed from Tom Brady’s departure, the club is handing the keys over to a new generation of leaders led by second-year quarterback Mac Jones.
For the time being, however, there is still plenty of value in having a steady group of veterans to help guide the ship in the right direction and keep the so-called “Patriot Way” alive.