With Tom Brady and Stephen Gostkowski having left the New England Patriots earlier this year, Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman are now the longest-tenured members of the organization — and two men who have been through the entire spectrum of NFL emotions as teammates since the latter was added via the seventh round of the 2009 draft.
Over the last 11 seasons, the two have won three Super Bowls alongside each other and helped carry the Patriots’ dynasty into a second decade. Along the way, they also developed a close friendship off the field. And according to Slater himself, it may have just helped his career stay alive into a 13th year.
“My guy, the Flying Squirrel,” he said about Edelman during a media conference call earlier this week. “I got to tell you, I don’t know that — and I’ll speak to my personal relationship with him — I’m still playing in this league without having him alongside me the last 12 years. He’s been such an encouragement for me, to see a guy like that give so much of himself to this team, this organization, this city, has been inspiring.
“I’ve seen this guy grow as a man, I’ve seen him grow as a professional, I’ve seen him learn from mistakes and be better for it. All the things you hope to have in a guy that represents your franchise, he embodies.”
Edelman may not have the same captain status as Slater, but over the years has grown to become not just a focal point within the Patriots’ passing game but an emotional leader of the unit and its wide receiver corps. Heading into the 2020 season with a new starting quarterback for the first time in his career — Cam Newton took over for Brady this summer — his leadership and playmaking ability will be crucial once again.
Luckily for the Patriots, as Slater noted, Edelman is still carrying a chip on his shoulder to prove his doubters wrong even after having become one of the top wide receivers of his era.
“He’s still being overlooked, because that’s just going to add more of a chip to what’s already a large chip on his shoulders. This guy — I was going to say young man, I can call him a young man because I’m older than him. This young man has really done so much for this organization,” Slater said. “You talk about what makes Julian special, there are so many things that you can look at, point to.
“To me it’s his work ethic — his willingness to put his body through pain and discipline and continue to fight to get better, to continue to fight, to compete. I think he gets that from his father. His father set a tremendous example for him in the way he raised Julian, and the way he continues to encourage Julian. You tip the hat to his family unit. He has a strong support system.”
Edelman’s support system has helped him grow from a seventh-round draft selection without a clearly defined position to a starter on three Super Bowl teams and the second most productive postseason pass catcher in NFL history behind only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. While Edelman’s Hall of Fame case will likely be debated for years to come, he is still trying to add to what already is an impressive résumé.
“This is a guy, he doesn’t know the meaning of quit,” Slater said about him. “He doesn’t understand what it means to give up, or to have self-doubt. He continues to try to do what people say he can’t do. He loves this game so much. He plays this game with the respect that it’s due. As a result, you see a guy who has been able to sustain in this league.
“He’s a champion. He’s a clutch player. He may not be the flashiest guy on paper, he may not be the fastest guy, the biggest guy, but ultimately when you’re in clutch situations, clutch moments, and you need plays made, I can’t think of anybody I’d rather have than Julian Edelman.”
Slater knows what he is talking about. Not only did he enter the NFL as a late-round draft pick as well — he was drafted in the fifth round in 2008 — before growing into one of the best players in football at his position, the five-time first-team All-Pro special teamer also lived with Edelman earlier during their careers.
“That’s from a guy who has lived with him for a period of time, believe it or not, who has seen him do a life day-in and day-out,” Slater said about his praise for Edelman. “He’s not perfect, but he certainly does his best every day to improve and to better himself at his craft and better himself as a man. So thankful for Julian, thankful for his friendship. I look forward to what the good Lord has in store for him here in his 12th season in New England.”