The New England Patriots’ kicking game units may have suffered some losses both on and off the field since January, but the team also was able to make two promising outside hires in free agency: the Patriots brought former All-Pro Adrian Phillips on board as well as veteran special teamer Cody Davis. While neither is a lock to make the team based on the contracts they signed, the belief is that they will help bolster New England’s coverage units.
One man who feels positively about Phillips and Davis joining the organization is veteran special teamer and long-time captain Matthew Slater . The 34-year-old, who returned to the Patriots this offseason on a two-year contract extension before entering unrestricted free agency, talked about the new additions to the kicking game crew in a media conference call earlier this week. And by the sounds of it he is looking forward to playing alongside both.
“I have spoken to Cody,” Slater said about Davis. “I’ve met him a couple times over the years and look forward to working with him. He’s been a great player in this league for a number of years now and excited for the opportunity to play with him. I know he’s excited about his opportunity to be here and certainly look forward to getting to know him better. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the type of person that he is.”
The 30-year-old originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent signing by the then-St. Louis Rams in 2013. While his defensive contributions were limited during his first three years with the team, he quickly established himself as a core member of its kick coverage units who saw regular action on special teams even as his role on defense grew: in 2016 and 2017, he played a combined 553 defensive snaps for the Rams as a rotational safety and registered two interceptions.
In 2018, Davis left the club to join the Jacksonville Jaguars via free agency. While his new team did not give him a regular role on defense, he continued his solid play in the kicking game: the Texas Tech product was on the field for 363 of the Jaguars’ 427 special teams snaps in 2018 (85%) and 382 of 439 last year (87%). Along the way, he combined to register 18 tackles and also blocked an extra point attempt.
Phillips, meanwhile, spent the first six years of his career with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers as a core kicking game presence and nickel defensive back filling the hybrid safety/linebacker role. While the 27-year-old brings more experience as a defender to the table than Davis, he too is an established special teamer: the former undrafted free agent was named to the All-Pro team in 2018 for his contributions in the game’s third phase.
It would therefore not be a surprise to see Phillips make an immediate impact on the Patriots’ kicking game units as well upon his arrival — helping New England replace departed four-unit veteran Nate Ebner. Slater certainly sounded optimistic when talking earlier this week about the potential impact the ex-Charger might have on not just the special teams units but also a defensive backfield that already looked like the best in football last season.
“I haven’t spoken to Adrian,” acknowledged Slater before sharing his admiration for what his new teammate brings to the table. “Obviously, been a fan of his for a long time now. He’s been a great player, not only in the kicking game, but I think he’s shown that he can play safety in this league at a high level, as well. So, excited to work with him and hopefully we get a chance to connect here before too long.”
“You can’t have enough good people in the building, so we’re excited about that,” continued the thee-time world champion about Davis and Phillips. ”Looking forward to bringing those new guys into the fray and kind of getting them caught up to speed on how we do things and also learning a thing or two from them. You know, you can never be in a place where you’re unable to receive from someone else. So, looking forward to learning from them, as well.”