Despite the losses of Tom Brady and several other veterans, Matthew Slater expects the Patriots’ goals in 2020 to be the same as ever.
"The standard doesn’t change at all,” Slater said on a conference call Monday. "The pillars that we stand upon, they don’t change at all. I think if you go into the season with a defeatist mind-set, then you can’t expect to be successful. We’re not the victims here. We have a great opportunity, we have a lot of good football players, we have a tremendous coaching staff.”
Already, it sounded as if Slater was doing a little tone-setting. In the days since Brady announced he was leaving New England and agreed to become a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, a messaging strategy from the remaining Patriots leaders has become apparent. Usually the "nobody believes in us,” narrative is invoked later on, but it’s in full force now.
"We have to go into the season expecting more from ourselves than anyone outside the building expects from us,” Slater said. "We have to go in with the same drive, the same focus, the same determination. If we don’t, you shouldn’t even step foot in the building because we’re already going to be beat.”
Without Brady, veterans such as Slater and Devin McCourty, both of whom re-signed with the Patriots this offseason, need to take on larger leadership roles. They already offer some vocal leadership, with Slater breaking the team down in the locker room after wins, but someone needs to become the face of the team.
Slater said it would be nonsensical to ignore the seismic change brought on by the departures of Brady and others, such as longtime kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
“We can’t not acknowledge the fact that Tom is gone and certainly there’s going to be an evolution that occurs within our locker room, an evolution that occurs within our offense,” Slater said. "That time was going to come in some way shape or form. What the void is, how we fill it, I can’t really speak to that right now.
"We’re going to have to be ourselves, we’re going to have to stick to our principles and lead the best way that we can. I don’t think that there should be any fear or angst as we go into kind of uncharted waters here. We should embrace the challenge, we should lean in on one another, trust our process and I think we’ll be OK as far as leadership is concerned, and we’ll just take things one day at a time.”
For Slater, who worked closely with Gostkowski, standout special teamer Nate Ebner and special teams coach Joe Judge, the changes are significant. Judge is now the head coach of the Giants, where Ebner signed as a free agent.
Slater said that, at this point in his career, it would be hard to picture himself playing for another team. He re-signed with the Patriots on a two-year deal.
That gives him some stability as he and other veterans guide the Patriots through a difficult offseason, the shape of which is still unclear because of the coronavirus. Slater did the conference call from home, where he joked that his three kids have become "human weights” as he tries to stay in shape.
However the 2020 season takes shape, voices such as Slater’s will be critical in Foxborough, especially with the possibility of a young quarterback such as Jarett Stidham taking over for Brady. Slater had nice things to say about Stidham, emphasizing his youth and character and potential.
"Brother Stid is a great kid, and I think that’s the thing that is going to matter the most with any player — who is he as a man, who is he as a person, what’s he motivated by? He’s just a great kid to be around,” Slater said. "He brings a lot of positive energy, he’s always got a smile on his face, and you can tell he’s very appreciative of the opportunity that he had last year and the opportunity that he’ll have going forward.”