The New England Patriots fell short of expectations in 2022. Coming off a 10-7 record and a playoff appearance, all while being led by a first-year quarterback, the team took a step back the following season.
At 8-9, New England failed to qualify for the tournament and is now heading into the offseason with plenty of questions. But despite the uncertainty and the season coming to a disappointing end with a 35-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills, at least one of the team’s leaders still is optimistic about its outlook.
“We’re all disappointed with the way that it’s ended, but I feel like we built a lot of character this year,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said after Sunday’s game. “There’s a great young core of players in that locker room that will be good for this franchise for a long time.”
After a handful of drafts that did not yield the desired results, especially between 2017 and 2019, the team seemingly had three successful years in a row now. It was not all hits along the way — third-round tight end duo Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene failed to pan out, for example — but the arrow appears to be trending in the right direction again.
As a result, that young core mentioned by Slater includes several players from those last three drafts.
On offense, the Patriots will continue to build around 2021 selections Mac Jones and Rhamondre Stevenson as well as 2020 pick Michael Onwenu. Additionally, they have some young and partially untapped potential from last year’s draft in the fold as well: Cole Strange, Tyquan Thornton, and Pierre Strong Jr.
Defensively, New England found three contributors in 2020 — including what appears to be the future leader of the team’s secondary in Kyle Dugger. Together with Anfernee Jennings and especially Josh Uche, he left his mark on one of the best defenses in the NFL this season.
They are not alone, though. 2021 pick Christian Barmore has impressed, while rookie cornerbacks Marcus and Jack Jones appear on their way to play valuable roles in the secondary and on special teams for years to come.
Speaking of the kicking game, Slater’s area of expertise saw some infusion of young talent in 2022 as well. Undrafted free agent Brenden Schooler was already one of the better special teamers in the league as a rookie and should only get better; the same is true for fellow five-unit member DaMarcus Mitchell.
While the results last season oftentimes did not look the part, New England does have a solid core of players in place. Slater’s optimism is therefore not entirely unwarranted.
“I certainly hope that we — I always say we — will build off of that: that our future holds better things in store, and I believe that it does,” he said. “As frustrating as it is right now, I think the future’s bright.
Whether or not he himself will be part of that future remains to be seen, though. At age 37, the end of his career is far closer than its beginning. In fact, it could come as early as this offseason.