The Patriots will have a key addition back in their facilities for 2023.
Through the team, Matthew Slater announced he would be returning for his 16th NFL season in 2023. He's not under contract so he and the Patriots will come to an agreement on a deal that will keep the 37-year-old in Foxboro for another year.
"It is a great honor and blessing to return to the Patriots for my 16th season," Slater said in a statement. "I thank God for His continued grace and provision over my career. I look forward to continuing to play under the leadership of Coach (Bill) Belichick. Thank you to the Kraft family and the entire Patriots organization for allowing me to continue to pursue my childhood dream. See you in the fall. God bless."
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Slater had been very open about the fact that 2022 might've been his final season. He was emotional at the podium following New England's season-ending loss to the Bills last month, understanding that he may have stepped off the field for the last time as a player.
Later, Slater said in an interview on the Tim Hatch Live podcast that the call to retire or not was "one of the most difficult decisions of my life."
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The Patriots are clearly pleased with the choice upon which he's settled.
"I couldn’t be happier to learn that Matthew Slater has decided to return for his 16th season with the New England Patriots," Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said. "Matthew’s drive to be the best at what he does will one day earn him enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Yet, as stellar as his football career has been, he is an even better person. He is led by his faith and spirituality, dedicated to his family and committed to his craft.
"There is no better leader for our younger players to follow and no better ambassador for the Patriots organization. He is truly special, and I am grateful that his contributions to the team will continue."
Slater is still considered by league evaluators to be an elite special-teamer, as his 12 special-teams tackles last year would suggest. That, in addition to the example he sets and the leadership he provides, makes him an invaluable presence in the Patriots locker room.
"I think it's really about the younger generation of players taking ownership," Slater told Hatch. "My generation had to take ownership from the (Tedy) Bruschis, the (Mike) Vrabels, the (Matt) Lights.
"I think this next generation, they really have to take ownership of the team and say, 'Hey, this team's only going to be as good as we make it, how we invest in it, how we steward over it, and maximizing our opportunity.' I think we have the young guys to do that."
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Slater's decision to come back means that the younger generation will get another year of tutelage in what it means to take ownership of the team.
It remains to be seen whether Slater's good friend and longtime safety Devin McCourty will be back for 2023 as well. But Slater's return ensures the Patriots will avoid the possibility of having two of their most respected leaders retire in the same offseason.
"Matt’s incredible career is a testament to his preparation and will to succeed,” Belichick said. "We are thrilled he will be playing this season."
Well before the start of free agency and the draft, it's already been a productive offseason for the Patriots. They announced that top defensive assistant Jerod Mayo would be sticking around after getting head-coaching interest elsewhere. Then Bill O'Brien agreed to return as offensive coordinator. Now Slater has decided to come back.
"Thrilled," as Belichick said, seems appropriate.