BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots’ acquisition of Cordarrelle Patterson gives them some flexibility on special teams. That flexibility, though, could come at the cost of Matthew Slater.

In acquiring Patterson and a sixth-round pick from the Oakland Raiders for a fifth-round selection, the Patriots now have a player to take over kickoff returns in place of the departed Dion Lewis. Patterson is pretty good at returning kickoffs, averaging 28.3 yards on his 19 returns last season and 30.2 yards per return over his career, which ranks second in NFL history. Not bad at all.

cordarrelle patterson What Does Cordarrelle Patterson Trade Mean For Matthew Slaters Future With Patriots?

Cordarrelle Patterson of the Oakland Raiders returns a kick against the Miami Dolphins during the 2017 NFL season. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Where it gets a little murky for Slater is Patterson’s reputation as a solid gunner on the punt team, which is Slater’s specialty. The veteran special teamer is already testing the free agent waters, paying a visit to the Pittsburgh Steelers over the weekend. He left Pittsburgh without a contract, but it’s looking like Slater could be wearing a uniform other than the Patriots for the first time in his professional career.

That’s surprising given how much Bill Belichick loves his special teams captain and how important Slater is in the New England locker room. He’s seen as one of the leaders inside 1 Patriot Place, both on and off the field, and losing him would be a big blow to a locker room that has reportedly had some tough times over the last few seasons.

Losing Slater wouldn’t be the end of the Patriots special teams unit as we know it. While he’s an important part and one of the best in the business at downing the football just ahead of the goal line, Slater will be 33 in September and coming off an injury-plagued season. Special teams have been a big part of the Patriots’ offseason so far, re-signing Nate Ebner, Brandon King and Brandon Bolden. Losing Slater would hurt, but there will still be plenty of Belichick regulars jetting down the field on kickoffs and punts in 2018.

The Patterson trade also doesn’t rule out a Slater return altogether. There is little risk that comes with Patterson’s acquisition, as his salary is not guaranteed and the Patriots could cut him without any dead money on the cap. They could essentially pay him his $250,000 workout bonus and cut him if they don’t think he’s worthy of the $3.25 million investment. Like Slater, Patterson does most of his damage on special teams, minus the occasional appearance as a gadget-type receiver. He only had 31 receptions for 309 yards last season, and he has just 163 receptions in his five NFL seasons.

Trading for Patterson gives the Patriots some wiggle room should Slater sign elsewhere this offseason, but the move shouldn’t rule out a return for the veteran. However, if Slater receivers a hefty paycheck from someone else, the Patriots are now in a better position to let one of their best special teamers walk away.

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