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Bill Belichick sings the praises of Matthew Slater: "Just about the perfect player"

Bill Belichick gushes about Rodney Harrison
Bill Belichick gushes about Rodney Harrison 02:08

BOSTON -- On Sunday night in Denver, veteran special teamer Matthew Slater missed a game for the first time since 2017. It was just the 20th game the Patriots have played since 2008 without Slater suiting up.

Clearly, a Slater absence is a rare, rare thing for the Patriots. But as has been the case for the past several years, Slater may soon be taking a permanent leave of absence from the football field.

Now 38 years old, Slater has signed one-year deals for each of the past two seasons, after signing a two-year deal in 2020. He's had the end of his career in his sights for some time, and gave serious consideration to walking away from the game with Devin McCourty last year. But he came back for what could be -- and likely will be -- his final season.

With that in mind, Bill Belichick was willing to get rather reflective on Friday morning when asked a thoughtful question about whether there was any indication back in the spring of 2008 that the Patriots would be getting the person in Slater when they drafted the football player.

"I don't think there was any question about that," Belichick said. "Coming out of UCLA, all the character recommendations were at their very highest."

Belichick then spoke at length about the man who's been a special teams captain every year since 2011. 

"He's had a tremendous career, made a lot of improvement. He identified the things he needed to work on, figured out what his role was and worked very hard to maximize his role. He's done, obviously, very well with it. All the Pro Bowls and recognition that's so well-deserved. And personally, what he brings to the team off the field -- leadership, work ethic, guidance, motivation, et cetera, is very unique and extraordinary. The very top."

Rookie Matthew Slater, Bill Belichick
Rookie Matthew Slater talks with Bill Belichick at a training camp practice in 2008. Ted Fitzgerald/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Belichick was asked a follow-up question, and he elevated his praise to the highest possible level.

"He's just about the perfect player," Belichick said. "He does everything you want him to do for your team, does everything -- I mean he's the first guy in, last one out. He's a minimal play-time player, in terms of the total number of plays he plays. But the way he trains, the way he prepares, communication, does everything he can to help the team. He has tremendous, total respect from everybody in the organization -- players, coaches, staff, you name it. And he's earned it. And he earns it every day. He doesn't rest on it. Anything he's done in the past, he comes in and every day is [like] his first day. Kind of like [former Patriots special teams coordinator] Scott O'Brien said a long time ago, every day he comes in like he might get cut that day. He prepares and practices and performs like, 'If I don't do good today, I'm not gonna be here tomorrow.' And it's a tremendous attitude."

Later in his press conference, after Belichick said that Rodney Harrison certainly makes his personal all-time team, the coach was asked if Slater would be on that imaginary squad as well. Belichick used that as an opportunity to make the case that Slater deserves serious consideration for Hall of Fame candidacy in Canton.

"Well, I think Slater really is eventually going to be a Hall of Fame candidate," Belichick said. "As a coverage player, not as a specialist, right? I mean for what he is, and he's not a returner. So he's in a very unique category, one that I don't think is represented in the Hall of Fame. But based on what he did during his career and the length of time he did it and at the level he's done it at -- I mean again, since there's no criteria for the Hall of Fame, there's no criteria. But I would say this guy's been as productive as has ever been at his position throughout his entire career, which is very lengthy. So I think he's the best that's ever done what he's done. Whether that's Hall of Fame-worthy or not, that's a different subject that I'm not -- I don't have a say in. But I can't imagine putting anybody in there ahead of him at that position."

Belichick was asked if he believes Steve Tasker would have to make the Hall of Fame first in order for Slater to get real consideration.

"Yeah, I think Slater's done more than Tasker," Belichick answered directly. "And I respect Tasker, but I just honestly think he's done more. I'm sure some people disagree with that, but ... those two would be at that position, yeah."

Belichick handled his regular press conference duties, checking in on various player's practice statuses, discussing new signees, and evaluating certain players' performances. But it's telling that at the end of a miserable season and with lots of reasonable speculation about his status in New England beyond this year, Belichick spent time in one of his final press conferences to help further establish the legacies of two of the players he's respected most during his coaching tenure in New England.

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