Light sees his return here as a good deal

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / August 4, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - If Matt Light harbored a little doubt in April about his future with the Patriots, he couldn’t be blamed.

After playing all 10 of his NFL seasons with the Patriots, Light was a free agent in the midst of league turmoil over a collective bargaining agreement. With contract negotiations on hold during the lockout, players such as Light had to sit and wait.

But the NFL draft went on, and in the first round, the Patriots selected offensive tackle Nate Solder with their first pick (17th overall). It was the second time in 11 seasons they used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman (Logan Mankins, 2005), and this one played only left tackle.

But Light said he always held out hope he would return to New England. On Tuesday, the Patriots signed him to a two-year deal.

“There’s always doubt,’’ Light said. “Unfortunately, it’s a business, and I think throughout the whole process, we were hopeful that this would be the outcome. Like I said, we’re happy to be here.’’

Last night, Light was on the Gillette Stadium sideline as season ticket-holders gathered to watch practice. As a free agent signee, Light will not be able to officially practice until the start of the league year, which is today.

But to see his teammates preparing for another season was enough.

During the offseason, Light couldn’t spend much time worrying about himself. He was a player representative who was responsible for getting information back to his teammates.

Light said he couldn’t worry about how being a player rep would affect him when it came time to negotiate his own contract.

“My role from day one as a player rep has always been to help inform my guys as to what’s happening, what they can expect from their union, what their benefits are, all those little things that a young guy and even in some cases older guys don’t fully understand,’’ he said. “And that’s the extent of it.

“I don’t get involved in all the politics and behind-the-scenes stuff. My role and what I think they expect from me is to be able to look at things and speak on their behalf on certain issues and then go to them when they need help. And that’s it. Doesn’t cross any more lines than that.’’

Patriots owner Robert Kraft was credited with being a key part of the negotiations, and that is something Light agrees with.

“When we went to the meetings, they let me know how important it was to have him in the room and what kind of leadership and just real experience he brought to the whole conversation, which was really the thing that was lacking for a long time, so we’re all grateful that that happened,’’ Light said.

All is not finished in terms of the CBA. It still needs to be approved by the NFLPA for the new league year to begin. As of last night, Light said, a conference call was planned, but he didn’t have any other details. Without approval, free agents such as Light will not be able to practice today.

“I know that they’re going back and forth right now on some of these issues that are outstanding,’’ Light said. “Whether it’s player conduct and things of that nature to the testing, there’s things that need to be ironed out, and I’m sure they will.

“It was a long process and both sides understood that you had to compromise, you had to at least get to the table to get things resolved, and they’re doing that now like they did in the last couple weeks.’’

Light is eager to put on pads again; he can’t think of a time in his life when he has been more ready to play football. When free agency began, Light said, he shared with the Kraft family what it meant to him to be a member of the Patriots. But he had to be prepared for anything.

Light wouldn’t say whether he was approached by any other teams, saying only that he was happy to return to the Patriots. He will provide the line with a decade of experience as he lines up next to Mankins.

“Matt’s been a pretty good player for us, no question about it,’’ said Nick Caserio, the Patriots director of player personnel. “His track record speaks for itself.

“Reality is, he’s going to come in here and he’s got a job to do and our expectations are the same for him as they are for any other player.

“It’s good to have Matt here, and we’ve got a lot of work to do and he’s got a lot of work to do, so we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing.’’

Now that Light has a team, he isn’t assuming he will have a job. There is plenty to compete for, but he is open to working with Solder and helping him along in a shortened year.

“Hey, competition’s the name of the game,’’ said Light. “There’s always going to be guys pushing everybody at every level when you have a coach like Bill [Belichick] and the rest of the staff.

“I think that it’s a good thing. I think it drives all of us, that’s why we’re out here. We’re out here to compete against each other, compete against the opponent, and drafting a guy that’s coming to fill in for these old bones, it was inevitable. Hopefully we’ll have some fun teaching him a thing or two.’’

As for who ends up on the field, Light said it is a process that never has changed with the Patriots.

“I’m pretty sure there’s always been a guy right there chomping on my heels,’’ he said. “Competition drives everybody.

“Like always, the guys that go out there and perform the best will be the ones that will be on the field.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.

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