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Chris Board was an ‘emphasis and priority’ for the Patriots in free agency

The Patriots signed Board to a two-year deal in free agency.

Detroit Lions vs Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The 2022 season marked a statical decline in many areas for the New England Patriots. One of the most notable was the team’s special teams unit, which ended the year ranked dead last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rating.

To help resolve that issue entering 2023, New England added several specialists in free agency, as well as in the NFL Draft. In free agency, that list was headlined by former Detroit Lion Chris Board Jr., who Bill Belichick called, “the best special teams player we’ll play against all year” prior to their Week 5 matchup last season.

“It meant a lot,” Board told reporters at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday. “Coach Belichick knows ball. For him to say that, it definitely meant a lot. I definitely look forward to making a lot more plays here and helping us win football games.”

When Board hit the open market back in March, it was no surprise that Belichick and the Patriots would be interested. New England had to beat out competition for his services, inking the linebacker and specialist to a two-year contract with a maximum value of $6.7 million.

“In free agency, there was a lot of teams that wouldn't mind having me,” Board explained. “There was definitely an emphasis and priority to get me here, which I really appreciated. So, that kind of went into the whole process of me deciding to come here. I appreciate just the respect that I've had here so far.”

Beyond signing Board, New England resigned long-time captain Matthew Slater, as well as respected veterans Cody Davis and Joe Cardona, in free agency. They then added to their kicking units in the draft using a pair of picks on kicker Chad Ryland and punter Bryce Baringer.

The hope now for New England is they all come together to form a much more formidable and reliable unit throughout the 2023 season.

“To be a strong unit, I feel like everyone just has to play as one,” Board said Tuesday. “Everybody on the same page. Everybody’s playing fast, physical, aggressive. Everyone’s just playing free. When you get that, all 11 playing on the same wavelength for that one play, there's nothing but good things that will come from that.”

Back in free agency, Belichick wasn't the only Patriot who was eyeing Board. His former Baltimore Raven teammate, and known free agent recruiter, Matthew Judon FaceTimed him before he signed.

“I FaceTimed him before I signed just to get a feel for what he thought,” Board said. “He spoke nothing but high things of the organization and just wanted me to come here for sure. That definitely was a factor as well in getting me to come.”

While Board’s main contributions will mostly come on special teams, he will likely get opportunities to line up with Judon on defense as well. Over the last three seasons, Board has logged nearly 800 combined defensive snaps — most coming in coverage situations.

“I’ve definitely played a lot of defense as well,” he said. “They always say the more you can do the better, so I kind of just try to have my hand in as many roles as I possibly can.”

While roles will sort themselves out later this offseason when activity levels amp up, Board is getting to work to be able to help out anywhere he’s needed.

“It’s still early, but I’m just really working as of right now and letting the chips fall where they may,” he said. “Just really get in, observing, and seeing how everything works and just finding my role. Figuring out where I fit.”