The sports world looks different than it did at the start of 2020. But it seems even more unusual for the New England Patriots. In the early days of the COVID-19 scare, Tom Brady got headlines for leaving the team he called home for nearly 20 years for a new opportunity in Tampa Bay.
If this change wasn’t enough, multiple key players opted out of the upcoming season. Matthew Slater was nearly among these, but he changed his mind at the last second. Here’s why.
Life after Tom Brady
It’s hard to overstate the impact that Brady had on the Patriots during his years with the team. He went from a seventh-round 2000 draft pick without a good shot at glory to one of the NFL’s faces for over two decades. Brady impressed head coach Bill Belichick early on. After injuries forced him into the starting lineup, the team was never the same.
Brady led the team to six Super Bowl wins in nine appearances, which spread from the early parts of his career to the later years. On top of that, he boasts a better resume than several franchises have altogether.
He was a three-time MVP, a 14-time Pro Bowler, a three-time First-team All-Pro player, a two-time second-team All-Pro member, two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, One-time NFL Comeback player of the year, and the leader in several major stats many times as a Patriot. Brady is more than a consummate winner.
He, along with Bill Belichick, was in many ways, the faces of Boston Sports. The Celtics and even the Red Sox won championships during Brady’s stint there, but Brady remained the face of the city’s sports scene until the very end. The team will have to work hard to replace him, and things got even tougher as it went on.
NFL players opting out
In one way, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Patriots, reports ESPN, just like it did with the rest of the NFL. Players with medical concerns were offered a special package that ensured some pay during the upcoming season, while players without medical concerns were guaranteed a stipend to, at the very least, help offset any financial woes that may come with it.
Dozens of players across the league, many of them less prevalent in the grand scheme, opted out of the upcoming season for various reasons. However, these opt-outs hit a Patriots team that was already trying to cope with a significant change even more.
Eight Patriots opted out of the upcoming season, including Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, and several other valuable members of the club. Had one player not changed his mind, they almost lost another key member, too.
Matthew Slater almost sits
Slater has been a quiet leader for the Patriots since joining the team in 2008, details CBS Sports. As more players opted out of the upcoming year, Slater was prepared to follow suit. But the five-time All-Pro special teams member is more than a presence on the field; he’s a captain and a go-to veteran for the squad.
However, as the deadline to opt out grew closer, Slater decided that despite concerns about his health and safety, he couldn’t watch the season go on without him. The Patriots have a lot of uncertainty about the future, and Slater wanted to help. The ambiguity will continue looming over the Patriots and the NFL in general, but his presence will provide some normalcy.
As the sports world reassembles itself after the COVID-19 scare, people have to make tough decisions. Slater was one of these, but luckily for Patriots fans, they can watch him take the field in September.