Light would have been a free agent

The New England Patriots have seen the Light, literally, for the past four years. And now they will see it -- or, more appropriately, him -- for six more seasons.

ESPN.com has learned that the Super Bowl champions have reached agreement on a six-year contract extension for starting offensive tackle Matt Light, a deal that runs through the 2010 season. The extension is worth $27 million and includes total bonus money of $9 million.

The retention of Light, a starter since his rookie season when he opened in 12 games, is a significant move for the Patriots. The fourth-year veteran was in the final season of his original rookie contract, earning a base salary of $455,000, and eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring.

New England has a few key veterans also perhaps headed for free agency at the end of the 2004 season. But one could argue pretty convincingly that Light was certainly near the top of the list and clearly a big priority for New England management.

At just 26 years old, the former Purdue star is already an excellent all-around tackle, and personnel directors leaguewide agree he will continue to improve. Light would have been a very attractive player in free agency, maybe could have commanded a contract better than the one he got from the Patriots, but was committed to staying with the team that brought him into the league.

By securing Light, who has started all three games this season after missing a portion of training camp and the exhibition slate while recovering from an offseason appendectomy, the Patriots essentially keep the anchor of a line unit that has lately been in flux. The club recently created some salary cap room by reworking some veterans' contracts, including those of quarterback Tom Brady and tailback Corey Dillon, and used part of that money in the deal to keep Light around.

A second-round choice in the 2001 draft, Light has appeared in 49 games and started in all but two of them. He started all 16 games in both the 2002 and 2003 seasons and, of course, has been a major part of the Patriots' two Super Bowl championships.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.