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NFL free agency 2023: What signing linebacker/special teamer Chris Board means for the Patriots

New England added Board on a reported two-year pact.

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The New England Patriots are in the middle of a busy Friday, making four moves already. The latest of those saw them address their linebacker and special teams depth: New England signed Chris Board to a reported two-year deal at a maximum value of $6.7 million.

What exactly will the 27-year-old bring to the table? Let’s find out by taking a brief look at what the signing means from a Patriots perspective.

New England keeps investing in its kicking game group. While Marcus Jones was voted first-team All-Pro as a punt returner, New England’s kicking game unit as a whole struggled mightily last season. In order to prevent a repeat from happening, the Patriots have made some investments.

Captain/gunner Matthew Slater and long snapper Joe Cardona were both retained, as were four-unit players Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson. Now, Board adds more experience to the equation — and quite a bit of quality as well.

The Patriots pick up the ‘best special teams player’ they faced in 2022. Ahead of the Patriots’ matchup against the Detroit Lions last October, Bill Belichick sang Board’s praises. In fact, New England head coach Bill Belichick called him “the best special teams player we’ll play against all year” before breaking down what made him such an impressive talent.

“He’s a very hard guy to matchup against,” he said about the 6-foot-2, 239-pounder. “The size matchup is a problem for the faster, lighter guys. The speed matchup is a hard matchup for the bigger guys who don’t run as well as he does. He has a great combination of size and speed as well as experience, instincts, and techniques. It’s all of the above. There are really no weaknesses in the player.

“You’ve got to figure out how to deal with him. He’s seen everything. But it’s different than just dealing with a big-sized player or just a speed player ... He’s a thumper. He’s a very physical player. He runs well. He’s very instinctive. So, it doesn’t matter who’s on him, it’s a tough matchup. If you start double-teaming than everybody else is singled. You might solve one problem but you might create multiple other ones, too. You have to figure out how to handle it. He creates a lot of problems and then it all kind of rolls downhill from there.”

The focus now shifts to Cody Davis. The Patriots retained four of their in-house core special teams free agents, as mentioned above, and now have also added Board. All eyes are now on the one special teamer left unaccounted for: Cody Davis.

While there has been some mutual interest in a reunion, nothing has transpired so far. Davis, who served as personal punt protector the last three years, suffered a season-ending knee injury last October and will turn 34 in June; his future in the NFL is an uncertain one.

Signing Board improves the linebacker depth. While Board’s primarily known for his special teams abilities, his defensive play also should not go unnoticed. An off-the-ball linebacker who also has moved to the edge on occasion, the former undrafted free agent has played over 800 defensive snaps between his stints in Baltimore and Detroit.

He currently projects as a depth option behind starters Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai, sharing backup duties with the aforementioned Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson. New England additionally has Terez Hall, Calvin Munson and Olakunle Fatukasi on its roster.

The contract will be cheaper than initially reported. As is the case with other signings made, Board’s salary cap impact will also not be known until full details of the pact become available. What can be said with relative certainty, however, is that the “up to $6.7 million” that was mentioned in the initial report will not entirely hit the Patriots’ books in 2023 and 2024.

Instead, it is likely that this figure includes incentives that are considered not likely to be earned. Board’s combined salary cap figure over the next two seasons will be smaller.