We have entered the deepest depths of the NFL offseason. Free agency and the draft are behind us, while minicamp and training camp won't start until early June and late July, respectively. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
After all, until the late-August's roster cuts, players need to have secured their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we’ll continue the series with one of the team's captains.
Name: Matthew Slater
Position: Wide receiver / Special teamer
Jersey number: 18
Opening day age: 31
Size: 6’0, 205 lbs.
2016 review: The most memorable moment of Matthew Slater's 2016 season came prior to the first overtime in Super Bowl history. As part of New England's captains, Slater called the coin toss; "heads" – as always – was the call, "heads" was the result. The Patriots elected to receive the kickoff and the offense marched right down the field for the winning score.
While Slater did not play a single snap during overtime, it was naturally the high point of the season – one that saw him perform at an All Pro level once again. And once again, despite being listed as a wide receiver on the roster, the vast majority of his playing time came on special teams: Slater played 227 of a possible 449 special teams snaps during the regular season (50.9%) and 58 of 93 in the playoffs (62.4%).
When on the field, he showed why he is among the premier gunners in the game. In 13 regular season games, Slater registered six tackles, fifth-most on the team. In New England’s three postseason contests, he added two more takedowns. Despite often being doubled at the line of scrimmage, the Pro Bowler usually was among the first Patriots impacting the play.
Not all was perfect, though. Slater missed three games because of a foot injury and fumbled on two of his three kickoff returns, losing one. Overall, though, it was yet another highly successful campaign for the veteran, culminating in his multiple accolades: Besides earning a second Super Bowl ring, Slater was also named first team All Pro and Pro Bowler.
2017 preview: The Patriots have an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver. But despite 11 wideouts currently under contract and Slater being one of the last layers of depth at the position, the 31-year old is a lock to make the team. The reasons for that are simple: his stellar work on special teams and as a captain, especially considering his modest salary cap hit of $1.6 million (26th highest on the team).
Entering his 10th NFL season, Slater’s role is therefore not projected to change. As one of the best special teamers in the league, the veteran will again see his fair amount of snaps in the kicking game. He will also still be a center of attention for opponents, which in turn will help free things up for his colleagues – namely Brandon King and Jonathan Jones.
Slater’s impact goes beyond his on-field performances, though. The son of Hall of Famer Jackie Slater also puts a profound stamp on his team and community off the field. Him being named a team captain each of the past six seasons as well as being voted 2016’s Bart Starr Man of the Year by his peers are clear evidence of that. 2017 will not be different.