New England Patriots

Whatever tension remains in Foxborough isn’t enough to drive Matthew Slater away.

The veteran special teams ace is re-signing with the Patriots on a two-year deal after briefly flirting with free agency, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss. Slater reportedly visited the Pittsburgh Steelers over the weekend, which sounded some alarms in New England. The trade for Cordarrelle Patterson looked like a preemptive move. Would the Patriots’ longtime special teams captain and vocal locker room leader really jump ship for one of their top AFC rivals?

But the unexpected didn’t happen this time. Slater is still in the fold, and it’s a much-needed offseason win for Bill Belichick.

On the field, Slater’s return provides stability and continuity. When on the field, he remains excellent in special teams coverage. He made his seventh straight Pro Bowl in 2017 despite playing in just nine games, tying Steve Tasker for the most appearances by a special teamer in the game.

But Belichick’s real win with Slater isn’t on the field, but off it. Reiss describes Slater succinctly as “one of the Patriots’ inspirational and spiritual leaders.” Slater famously leads the postgame speech after wins. He’s one of the faces of the team. And in the Patriots’ current state – any state, really – he’s key to keeping the locker room together.

Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots gets ready to cover a kickoff play. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Matthew Slater (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Concern about continued off-field drama at Gillette Stadium may have increased with the departures of Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Malcolm Butler via free agency. In this case, Slater alone obviously doesn’t solve everything. Issues may still be percolating. And Slater ultimately isn’t the “difference” in the team’s Super Bowl chances, anyway.

But let’s be honest … if Slater left for the Steelers, those “tension” storylines once again would’ve been hammered over and over. It would’ve only raised further questions over what is causing this so-called “mass exodus” of consummate Patriots. It would’ve made an already-ominous offseason that much more unsettling. So it’s only fair to say that Slater’s return is a sign in the positive direction.

Sure, it probably would’ve taken a lot for Slater to say that the Patriots’ locker room environment isn’t a place he wants to be anymore. But the 2017 Bart Starr Award winner is clearly still happy to stay in Foxboro, perhaps for the rest of his career at this point. Devin McCourty is certainly happy, too, now that the Patriots brought in his twin brother. These moves make it a bit harder to argue that Belichick is Losing The Locker Roomâ„¢, that he’s starting to drive players out.

Belichick and the Patriots still have a lot of work to do before the 2018 season. On the field, it’s more important that they find a left tackle, add at linebacker, and figure out what Gronk is doing (if they haven’t already). But off the field, re-signing Slater is a small victory for a team in need of keeping some of their leadership and character guys intact.

— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.