Matthew Slater approaching 2020 leadership role with gratitude

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By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

Longevity is not common to come by in professional football. To play 13 years in the NFL is an accomplishment in its own right, but to play all 13 for the same organization is beyond a rarity in today's game.

Rare, but not impossible. Patriots captain Matthew Slater is currently beginning his 13th year with the team. On top of that, Slater is now the longest-tenured player on the roster, following the departure of Tom Brady.

Speaking with the media on Sunday, Slater told reporters he is approaching his veteran status with a sense of responsibility.

"As I'm in a position now to be the longest-tenured player on this team, I want to make sure that I go about it from a place of gratitude," the 34-year-old said. "I want to be able to use my experience, my wisdom, and pass it along to the younger generation. I want to encourage, I want to uplift my teammates and empower them to go on and do even greater things than I've been able to accomplish professionally."

Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown after a blocked punt during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on September 29, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown after a blocked punt during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on September 29, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Slater has long been viewed as a strong voice within the Patriots locker room, but extreme roster turnover and an unusually structured season means the team will likely need to lean on his leadership now more than ever. In turn, Slater says he can lean on his past experiences to help guide the 2020 Patriots forward. 

"I've learned from some great men over the years," Slater said on Sunday. "I've been very fortunate and blessed to have been around some tremendous leaders who have taught me a lot of lessons in leadership, and have really shown me the way. They've shown me how to treat people, how to be professional, just how to approach the game of football."

Slater's approach may not be what you'd expect from someone well into their second decade in the NFL, but the 2008 fifth-round pick knows past success doesn't guarantee him anything in the present. 

"I'm happy to serve. I'm just happy to be here. I'm thankful. I still feel like I have to earn my way and earn the trust of my teammates, and that starts with hard work."

Oct 21, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;
New England Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater (18) recovers a muffed punt in the second half as New York Jets defensive back Matthias Farley (41) reacts at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

So what does Slater hope to instill in his teammates as a leader in 2020?

"[It] starts with showing them that I care about them as men and that I care about the trajectory of their lives moving forward beyond the game of football...I hope that they remember Matthew Slater the man more than they remember Matthew Slater the football player. I hope that they feel like I was someone that was in their corner, encouraged them, and pushed them to be greater." 

Slater also acknowledged that this year perhaps more than any other, it's going to important for the whole team to buy in to a single message. 

"That's really going to be something that we have to embrace as a team this year, considering all the unique circumstances that we're being faced with."

The Patriots drafted Slater in the fifth round in 2008. He's played 173 career games in New England, mainly as a special teams standout, being named All-Pro at the position twice and going to eight Pro Bowls. He signed a two-year contract extension this offseason after stating his intention to end his career in New England.

Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].