BOSTON (CBS) — It’s very much an offseason of change for the New England Patriots. If there’s anyone suited to reflect on that change, it would be Matthew Slater, the man who suddenly finds himself as a the longest-tenured member of the team.
Slater spoke with reporters on Monday, and while Tom Brady was an obvious topic of conversation, that wasn’t the only now-former teammate that the longtime Patriots captain discussed.
On special teams alone, Slater has had to say goodbye to Stephen Gostkowski and Nate Ebner. Gostkowski had briefly been the longest-tenured Patriot after Brady’s departure, but the team released the veteran kicker.
The longtime special teams captain had nothing but effusive praise for the man who replaced Adam Vinatieri.
“You really can’t say enough good things about Stephen and what he’s done for this organization,” Slater said. “You think about the beginning of his career, and when he was drafted here. He was drafted to replace a guy who is maybe the best kicker in the history of the league, with some of the things [Vinatieri has] been able to accomplish. For Stephen to come in here and keep his head down, and year after year lead by example, work at his craft, try to get himself better, be there for his teammates, be just a light within the locker room that brought laughter and joy to the locker room, the type of man that he is, the friendship that he offered to so many of us. He’s another guy that you just feel a lot of gratitude toward because he did so much to lead the way.”
Slater added that Gostkowski deserves placement right up there with everybody else when talking about the most important players of the dynasty.
“I think he’s a guy that should be mentioned right up there with some of the guys who have really carried the flag on this,” Slater said. “I know personally, I had a special connection with Stephen, me being a special teams guy and him being a specialist. We spent a lot of time together. I’m thankful for a guy like that. He showed me how to be a pro, he showed me how to go about my business, he showed me how to at times not take this team too seriously but at the same time take it very seriously. There’s a thin line there and I think he walked it as well as anyone. I’m thankful for the example that he set for me and the time we spent together and wish him nothing but the best.”
On Ebner, Slater said that he and the former rugby star worked closely, ever since Ebner entered the league in 2012. Slater also said that much of Ebner’s work has gone largely unnoticed, despite its importance.
“I think for me, I’ve worked more closely with Nate than any player on our roster over the last eight years, by a long shot. I’ve spent more time in meetings, more time on the practice field with Nate Ebner than any player, maybe in my career,” Slater said of his fellow special teams ace. “So, his value to what we did in the kicking game, it just was off the charts. It would never be something that gets talked about because there’s so many intricacies within the kicking game that get overlooked, but the things that he has done for our football team on and off the field over the last eight years have been tremendous.”
Even though Slater was already a veteran leader when Ebner arrived in Foxboro, Slater said he did plenty of learning from Ebner.
“I know personally as a player, no player has challenged me more, has pushed me more, has gotten more out of me as a teammate than him. I certainly thanked him for that when I found out that he was leaving, but I certainly am going to miss that,” Slater said. “What he did for us as a communicator, you think of him almost as a third coach on the field. He did so much and he got guys lined up, he got guys on the same page, and he did it not only year after year, but week after week, day after day. I mean, he was so consistent in what he brought to the table.”
Of course, the NFL is all about change. Still, someone like Slater who’s been able to be the rare player who sticks with one team for more than a decade certainly has a unique ability to appreciate the special connections that are made along the way.