New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 30: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots reacts during the third quarter of a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Patriots have no problem bringing back former players for second or even third stints in New England. Just last year alone, the team acquired Trent Brown, Kyle Van Noy, and Jamie Collins just a few years after they’d all left Foxborough.

With free agency starting up again next week, the Patriots could have a few chances to set up more reunions in 2022. Players like Stephon Gilmore, Chandler Jones, Akeem Hicks, and others will all be available at positions of need for the Patriots. Yet Thursday saw another name added to the market that may be a better fit than all of them.

After a few weeks of speculation, the Detroit Lions finally released 28-year-old defensive end Trey Flowers Thursday afternoon. Flowers signed a five-year, $90 million deal with the Lions back in 2019, and the team saves $10 million against the cap by cutting him.

Before that, Flowers was a fourth-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2015 and played a starting role on two Super Bowl-winning defenses. He recorded 21 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss in 46 career games in New England.

Bringing back Flowers now would do more for the Patriots than just add a familiar face. He’d actually fill a big need along the defensive front. With the departure of Van Noy, the Patriots need an edge setter on the strong side of the line to play opposite Matthew Judon. Flowers excelled in that role his first time in New England, and likely could do so if put in the same system again.

If the Patriots do want to pursue Flowers, how much competition will they have? A number of teams should be interested, but Flowers’ inability to stay on the field the last two years (he played only seven games in both 2020 and 2021) will likely hurt his value.

That could end up helping the Patriots’ case, as they could offer him one year in a system he knows he can succeed in to re-up his value. At just 28-years-old, it’s not unrealistic to think he could get another big long-term deal in 2023 if he has a strong season this fall.

Because Flowers was released and isn’t coming off an expiring contract, he’s eligible to be signed immediately, and does not need to wait for the start of the new league year next week. However, it would make sense for both him and teams pursuing him to see how the market plays out next week before committing to a deal.

Patriots veterans provide clarity on their football future

  • Devin McCourty

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32) celebrates after an interception against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32) celebrates after an interception against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

    McCourty’s contract situation differs from Slater and Hightower, as the safety currently has a void year in his contract. He will either need a new deal or will enter free agency, but will count against the cap either way. Spotrac lists McCourty at $6.45 million against the cap in 2022.

    The 12-year veteran still serves as one of the Patriots’ top leaders, both on and off the field. New England has depth at safety with talented players in Kyle Dugger and the recently extended Adrian Phillips. The dilemma is that neither of them play as much of a free safety role in center field like McCourty does. If McCourty does depart, the Patriots will need to find a true free safety to fill his spot with the starters on defense.

  • Dont’a Hightower

    Linebacker Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots reacts after making a defensive play in the second quarter of the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 19, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    Linebacker Dont’a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots reacts after making a defensive play in the second quarter of the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 19, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    After returning from opting out of the 2020 season, Hightower returned as a leader for New England, but struggled at times on the field due to his age and diminishing speed.

    While it was more orientated for cap space, the Patriots have already moved on from one veteran linebacker with the release of Kyle Van Noy. Hightower could be the least likely of the three to return.

    The Patriots are due for a major overhaul in the linebacking core as a result of poor execution in the second half of the season, as well as Hightower and Ja’whaun Bentley being on track for free agency. If Hightower and McCourty are not Patriots in 2022, the team will also need to identify who will wear the green dot on their helmet to distribute defensive play calls from the sideline.

  • Matthew Slater

    Matthew Slater #18 of the New England Patriots celebrates after a missed field goal by the New York Jets during the first half at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Matthew Slater #18 of the New England Patriots celebrates after a missed field goal by the New York Jets during the first half at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Out of the three players, Slater would be the easiest to bring back in his cornerstone special teams role. Slater could return for a deal in the range of one or two years, for around $2 million annually. As a team captain and prominent voice in the locker room, Slater is an invaluable figure within the team and the organization.

    Slater joins Brandon King, Brandon Bolden, and Gunner Olszewski as viable special teams players without contracts (Olszewski is a restricted free agent). The Patriots will have to address this area of the team and will determine if Slater will lead through his high-caliber play in the third phase of the game.

    These three players already have their Patriot legacies set in stone. The next few weeks will answer whether those legacies will live on into next season.

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Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.