BOSTON (CBS) — A large portion of the Patriots roster is in Foxboro this week for the first offseason workouts of the 2018 season. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are not among them.
As you might expect, the absence of two captains — and two of the best players in football — has drawn a bit of attention, especially considering both players have been in the news for not exactly being on perfect terms with the Patriots. So when Matthew Slater spoke to the media on Tuesday, it didn’t take long for the longtime special teams captain to be asked about the notable absences.
“Well, I’ll say this: Those are two men that are more than capable of speaking for themselves, so I certainly wouldn’t want to be out of line in attempting to speak for them,” Slater said. “This is a voluntary program. Every year, guys have different things that come up, whether it’s family issues, personal issues, things come up. The guys that are here, we’re going to do what we can to work hard and come together and take this thing one day at a time, and that’s really all I can say about that. I certainly don’t want to put myself in a position where I feel like I can speak for those two guys.”
Later, Slater spoke about the importance of the workout sessions for team bonding.
“I’d say so, especially with new guys. We’re trying to invest in relationships,” Slater said. “I think relationships, when it comes to a football team, are very important. I don’t think it gets talked about enough, but when you’re out on the football field, doing what we’re asked to do each and every day, it takes a lot of trust. It takes a lot of familiarity with the man next to you, so the guys that are here – we’re going to make sure that we invest the time in getting to know one another.”
Slater was also asked about some comments from his now-former teammates about how difficult it can be to play for Bill Belichick in New England. Though Slater’s only played for the Patriots as a professional, he said it’s difficult to play anywhere in the NFL.
“Well, certainly, it is challenging. It’s the National Football League, though,” he said. “I think if it was easy, then a lot more people would be able to do it. It’s tough, it’s very difficult, and I don’t think that’s just unique here. I think every place is tough. This is a very competitive league with some of the best athletes in the world. There’s a premium put on winning wherever you are. Everyone wants to win and have success, and everybody’s going to be judged off of whether or not they’re winning. That’s what it comes down to. I don’t think that this place is unique in that regard. I think every team in this league is on a quest to win and have success, and that quest is not an easy one.”
And considering Slater’s carved out a long career almost exclusively playing special teams, you can imagine that he had a passionate and thorough response when asked about rumors of the NFL potentially getting rid of kickoffs. Here’s his response in full:
“Well, certainly, something like that is hard to miss. A lot of people will say I have a bias because it’s what I do for a living, and I understand that, but I think it’s no mystery that I’m closer to the end of my career than I am to the beginning. That being said, I think you take away this play from football [and] you’re changing the fabric of the game. I think this play is part of the fabric of the game.
“It really makes me ask the question ‘Where do you go from here? What will happen next?’, and I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know. But I look at a number of plays. I look at a goal-line-stand. I look at a third-and-1; think about the collisions that are happening there. Those may be deemed unsafe by some people. If you make a drastic change such as this, what’s next? What happens?
“The reality is this is football. This is a contact sport. This is a violent sport, and all of us that are playing the game understand that. There are inherent risks that come along with playing the game. If you’re not OK with those risks, I respect that, and maybe you should think about doing something else. But if we feel like we need to take away this play from the game to make the game safer, well then what does that stop? The game has changed so much in my lifetime, since my father played, watching him play until now, and I understand. Look, I’m a player rep, and nobody cares more about player health and safety than the players, than the men that are out there on the field putting their bodies on the line. That being said, we understand we’re playing football.
“To take away the kickoff, I really think it would be tragic. I really think, like I said, you’re changing the fabric of the game that we all love to cover, report on, that we love to play, coach, and I think it’s very disheartening to continue to have this brought up. I understand, look, people are concerned with the long-term health and safety of the players. But as I said, no one’s more concerned than the men that are actually out there doing it, and if we’re OK doing it, I don’t understand why we have to continue to look for alternatives, continue to push. Those are just my thoughts on it. As you can tell, I feel strongly about it and would love to continue that dialogue throughout the course of the season.”
Slater, a seven-time Pro Bowler who’s been named a First Team All-Pro (2016) and a Second Team All-Pro (2017), admitted that he does not believe he’d be where he is right now if the kickoff hadn’t been a part of the game.