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Patriots team captain Matthew Slater leaves questions about a potential return in 2021 unanswered

Related: Matthew Slater apologizes for the Patriots’ season: ‘We’re sorry we didn’t represent ourselves in a better way’

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Matthew Slater will play his 213th game with the New England Patriots on Sunday, moving into fourth on organization’s the all-time leaderboard behind only Tom Brady (326), Stephen Gostkowski (232) and Bruce Armstrong (219). Whether or not he climbs any further up the list to possibly pass Armstrong and Gostkowski remains to be seen, however.

Slater left questions about a potential return next season unanswered during a recent media conference call.

“I don’t know,” said the long-time team captain when asked about coming back for a 14th season with the Patriots in 2021. “I try not to think about that, especially in the middle of a season, in the middle of a quest — focusing on finishing that quest. I don’t know. I think that’s something that Shahrzad and I are going to have to pray about, and we’re going to have to see what we feel like is best for our family.

“Obviously, there’s got to be desire from the organization to want me back here. I don’t see myself playing anywhere else. So we’ll be praying about that like we have been the last couple of years, and if we feel like the Lord is telling us to do something, we want to be obedient in that way.”

Slater first arrived in New England in 2008, when the team selected him in the fifth round of the draft. While he had virtually no impact when playing his listed position — he has only one career reception as a wide receiver — 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.

Slater has been voted to nine Pro Bowls as well as five first All-Pro teams and is also a member of the Patriots’ Team of the 2010s. Most importantly, though, he helped bring three Super Bowl wins to New England.

His career, which also includes winning the prestigious Bart Starr Award in 2017, has been a highly successful one so far. At age 35, however, Slater’s days in pro football are obviously numbered. The question now becomes if he wants to go out after one of the most challenging seasons of his career, and the only one that did not end with a winning record.

“Obviously, starting with Covid, you look at everything that went into this season football-wise. And the way that it’s gone for our team, it’s something that I haven’t experienced as a professional,” Slater said. “I said earlier in the year that it’s shown me a lot about who I am as a man — the way that I lead, the way that I relate to people and deal with relationships. It’s really taught me a lot, but it’s been difficult; it’s been challenging.

“I’ve been spoiled being part of this organization. You have expectations, and those expectations center around winning, and we just haven’t done that this year. So it’s been frustrating in a lot of ways, but I still am grateful for the experience I’ve had this year.”

During Slater’s tenure with the Patriots, the organization has reached the playoffs 11 times — only missing the tournament during his rookie year and the current season that will end on Sunday versus the New York Jets. Despite his comparatively advanced age and the challenges both he and the league as a whole faced in 2020, however, it still saw Slater play at a very high level.

Will 2021 be more of the same? Slater would not tell, instead taking the ever-popular “one game at a time” angle.

“I’m certainly thankful for all the things that I’ve been able to continue to do off the field relationally and pouring into guys. That will all factor in, and then obviously physically and opportunity-wise,” he said. “We’ll cross that road when we get to it. I think now, it’s important to finish out what we started here in 2020 and see where we are when the time comes.”