If we have just watched Matthew Slater’s final game in the NFL, what a tremendous career it has been. Drafted by the New England Patriots in 2008, Slater spent the entirety of his 15-year career in New England, winning three rings along the way. So let’s take a closer look at his résumé and his case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In addition to his three Super Bowl rings in 2015, 2017, and 2019, Matthew Slater has 10 Pro Bowls to his name. He took home First-Team AP All-Pro twice, in 2016 and 2019, and Second-Team honors three more times in 2017, 2020, and 2021. The longtime team captain has 185 tackles in his 15 seasons, adding 22 more in the playoffs. His teammates love him, the NFL brotherhood holds him in the highest regard, and Coach Belichick sings his praises at every turn.
Bill Belichick made his mark in the NFL as a special teams coach. Over the years, his Patriots teams have embodied that persona, with gritty defense and special teams units that can flip field position on opponents. The third phase is important in New England. For over two decades, the Patriots were blessed with kickers Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski. We’ve seen Larry Izzo amass the most special teams tackles in NFL history, spending much of his career in New England. And yet, Matthew Slater stands out among the best.
Slater will undoubtedly be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. But does he have a case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame? The precedent tells us probably not. The Pro Football Hall of Fame historically neglects the third phase of the game. There are a mere four kickers (two of whom played other positions) and one punter in the HOF today. There are no return specialists and no gunners.
Much time has been spent arguing the case of one special teams ace versus another. If we point to Matthew Slater, someone else will point to Steve Tasker and his HOF absence as the reason why Slater’s admission would be unjust. Tasker’s career most closely resembles that of Slater. But this does not need to be an either/or discussion.
Matthew Slater’s HOF case is Steve Tasker’s HOF case. Steve Tasker’s HOF case is Devin Hester’s HOF case. Devin Hester’s HOF case is Bill Bates’ HOF case. And so on. Every year, games are won and lost on the backs of special teams’ play, and the Hall of Fame Selection Committee ought to do a better job recognizing the merits of elite special teams’ play and its impact on the game.
Devin Hester, a finalist for the 2023 HOF class, should get in eventually. So, too, should Steve Tasker. And Matthew Slater should one day join his father, Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater, in Canton. The younger Slater, with 10 Pro Bowls to his name, has more than his father (seven in 19 seasons). In fact, Matthew Slater would likely be the only player in NFL history to have 10 Pro Bowls and not be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
That group currently includes Drew Brees, Jason Witten, Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Thomas, and Tom Brady. All should be surefire Hall of Famers, as should Slater. Steve Tasker agrees that Slater should get in when his time comes. But should he never receive the call, it will be nothing new to Matthew Slater. Despite the accolades and the rings, Slater played the most under-appreciated, unheralded role in football… and was the best ever to do it.
That was on full display Sunday, in likely his final game. Grasping for life in the fourth quarter of a win-and-in game, Slater had the smarts to push Taiwan Jones into a bouncing Michael Palardy punt. Ja’Whaun Bentley recovered and gave the Patriots the ball in Bills’ territory.
The Patriots could not capitalize, and the special team’s play was otherwise dismal. In allowing two Bills kick return touchdowns, the Patriots season was lost. After one of the shakiest special teams games we’ve ever seen out of a Belichick-led Patriots team, it seems that Special Teams Coordinator Cam Achord won’t stick around for long. If Achord is relieved of his duties, perhaps Matthew Slater might feel compelled to stick around for another 15 years, this time as the Patriots’ Special Teams Coordinator.
Hey, a guy can dream.