The New England Patriots fielded the best special teams unit in the NFL in 2020, in no small part due to Matthew Slater’s contributions. Not only did Slater play at a Pro Bowl level yet again, he also served as the unit’s emotional leader — just like he did for the entire team after it lost Tom Brady and other long-standing veterans during the offseason.
Turning the calendar to 2021, however, Slater’s future is in question. While he does have one season left on the two-year contract extension he signed last March, at age 35 the end of his career is certainly closer than its beginning.
Slater acknowledged this much during a media conference call earlier this month.
“I’m at a point in my career where I don’t know how much football I have left,” he said when asked about his thoughts on Year 13 coming to an end. “I think as a young guy you’re always thinking about the next season, the career you hope to have. Now, obviously, I’m on the back-nine and I think you appreciate it a little bit more — I know that I do. My emotions when I think back on it are filled with gratitude.”
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity I had to play another year, thankful for my health. Just the relationships and the experience, everything, really, really grateful for.”
A fifth-round draft selection back in 2008, Slater has grown into one of the core members of the Patriots’ Dynasty 2.0. While he had virtually no impact at his listed position of wide receiver — his lone career reception happened in 2011 — the UCLA product and son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater has carved out a role as a team leader and arguably the best kick coverage player the NFL has ever seen.
As such, Slater was voted to his ninth Pro Bowl just this year and also named to his seventh total All-Pro team. Furthermore, he is a member of the Patriots’ Team of the 2010s and helped bring three Super Bowls to New England.
Considering all those accomplishments seeing Slater call it a career after 213 games in a Patriots uniform would not be a surprise. However, he noted that he would not rush into a decision about his future.
“I’m going to take some time,” Slater said. “Coach always says you don’t want to make any decisions right after the season, the day after the season, whether to play or not to play. So, I think I’m just going to be praying about it and see how that goes moving forward.”
Regardless of the decision Slater ends up making, he has already established his place in Patriots history and will be inducted into the franchise’s Hall of Fame shortly after calling it a career — whether the decision comes in 2021, 2022 or at an even later point. Once it does come, Slater could still envision himself staying with the organization in some other capacity if an opportunity would present itself.
“I love this organization,” he said. “It’s the only real job I’ve ever had, so I feel like I owe a debt to this organization. They provided myself and my family with a tremendous opportunity. I’m always going to support this organization.
“If they ask me to do anything as far as I see fit I try to step up in that role, but I haven’t thought about that and I don’t know what opportunities may present themselves beyond my playing career here. But I’d certainly keep an open mind to it. As long as it’s reasonable and it works for my family and I, then it’s something that I’d keep an open mind toward.”
For now, Slater’s job description remains unchanged. That said, he is certainly one of the players to keep a close eye on this offseason.