Cordarrelle Patterson gives the Patriots a dynamic kick returner, but he can also contribute as a gunner on punt coverage as well. And an ominous bit of news over the weekend hints that Patterson will assume the role that has long belonged to special teams ace Matthew Slater.
Field Yates of ESPN tweeted on Saturday that Slater, currently a free agent, was visiting the AFC rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The same Slater who has not only made it to seven straight Pro Bowls and earned All-Pro honors in five different seasons as a special teamer, but has been one of the Patriots’ captains and top locker room leaders during his career.
Ultimately, the loss of the second part could be the one that stings for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. But on the field, Slater is about as impeccable as you can get as a special teams player. That’s why the acquisition of Patterson could help mitigate that potential on-field loss.
Still, just because Slater visited the Steelers doesn’t mean he’s definitely leaving the Patriots. Dont’a Hightower also visited Pittsburgh before coming back and re-signing with New England a year ago. The same could happen with Slater. But in light of several other moves the Patriots have already made, the writing could be on the proverbial wall for Slater’s possible departure.
The Pats didn’t just swap draft picks with the Raiders in order to get Patterson on Sunday. They’ve also re-signed free-agent special teamers Nate Ebner, Brandon Bolden, and Brandon King. In light of the idea that Slater could be playing elsewhere next season, Belichick could be looking to maintain as much continuity on the special teams units as possible. And in the case of Patterson, he’s adding a high-end talent in that phase of the game.
Is Patterson Replacing Slater?
Honestly, it’ll be harder for the Patriots to replace Slater’s presence as a veteran leader than it’ll be to replace him on the field. It’s worth noting that the 32-year-old Slater missed seven games in 2017, and the Pats played fine on special teams in his absence. With Patterson in the fold, their kick returns will be borderline must-see TV and their punts could be just as effective with Patterson covering down the field.
But if Slater is added to the list of Patriots departures, to go along with Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Malcolm Butler … that’s a lot of leadership and character headed out the door. It’ll lead to lots of speculation on the health of the Patriots locker room in the wake of the numerous reports on internal tension during the 2017 season. But between Brady, Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty, and Hightower, the team won’t exactly be rudderless either.
It would certainly hurt for fans if Slater signs elsewhere, especially if it’s with the Steelers. To some, it’ll feel like he’s taking a shot at the Pats organization, or jumping from a so-called “sinking ship.” But at this stage of his career, you couldn’t blame Slater for taking the best deal for himself financially in free agency. Perhaps the Steelers outbid the Patriots and win in this case.
But at the end of the day, the Patriots will still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and a strong special teams unit, with or without Slater. You can still probably pencil them in for the 2018 AFC Championship Game. So even if Slater leaves, Patterson and the remaining special teamers would likely make it work and make it work well.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.