New England Patriots

Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Devin McCourty #32 after forcing a fumble from Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

This offseason holds the potential for another changing of the guard and the looming departure of more veterans of the Patriots’ dynasty core.

Matthew Slater, Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty all sit on the verge of free agency with big decisions coming to determine their futures as players.

As Mike Giardi of the NFL Network reported on Tuesday, all three intend on continuing their careers on the field. Whether or not that remains in a Patriots uniform is yet to be determined. Here is the outlook for these three New England veterans entering free agency.

  • 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.