BOSTON (CBS) — Matthew Slater has had himself a rare NFL career. He entered the league joining a Patriots team that was coming off a 16-0 regular season. In the first quarter of his first NFL game, he saw Tom Brady suffer a season-ending injury. He played a year with Matt Cassel as his quarterback, lost a Super Bowl in year four, and finally won a championship in year seven of his career.
He’s now entering his 13th NFL season as a three-time Super Bowl champion. But he’s also entering his first season where Brady is not at the top of the quarterback depth chart.
Speaking with reporters on Monday afternoon, Slater spoke on just how much different life will be in Foxboro this season.
“When you talk about Tom and everything that he’s meant to this organization, to our team … a lot of our identity over the last 20 years has been centered around him,” Slater said. “Any time you transition away from a player like that, it’s a tall task. There’s a lot of emotions involved as you try to process it, especially for me personally.”
Despite the pain of saying farewell to Brady in the locker room, Slater said he’s looking at the situation as a moment to feel thanks and gratitude for having been teammates with the GOAT for so long.
“I think the one thing that I am feeling right now is a ton of gratitude. I feel a ton of gratitude toward Tom for the way that he always treated me, the respect that the always showed me from the moment I walked into this locker room, the humility which he carried himself with,” Slater said. “Truly I’m thankful for the experiences that he provided for me on the football field, experiences I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. Some magical moments being his teammate.”
A captain alongside Brady since 2011, Slater said his relationship with Brady extended far off the field.
“Certainly, ‘thank you’ doesn’t do it justice,” Slater said. “But I have a lot of gratitude when I think about the name Tom Brady.”
As for how the team can and will move on, Slater said the foundations of what the Patriots are built upon should continue to carry the team.
“As a team, the fact that Tom’s gone, deal with it in a healthy way, and then move on,” Slater said. “We’re going to have to find a new identity for ourselves. But I think part of that identity is going to be built upon things that we’ve always stood for and continue to stand for. Selflessness, hard work, making good decisions as far as how that affects the whole team, so I should say doing what’s best for the football team, serving one another, not having an expectation of things being handed to us. These are the ways that we’ve always operated and I think we’re going to have to continue to operate in the same manner, and find a new identity for ourselves.”
Slater added: “Players come and go. The reality is no player plays forever. So at some point in time you have to have pillars that you stand upon that are not going to fall regardless of who’s in or out. I think we have good pillars in place.”