FOXBORO, Mass. — As the New England Patriots prepared for their eighth consecutive playoff run, wide receiver Julian Edelman drew a line in the sand.
After complaining earlier about the belongings of locker-mate and Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater encroaching on Edelman’s space, the wide receiver took a roll of medical tape and stretched it over Slater’s backpack, creating an actual, physical boundary. The two players vowed any item that crossed over that line in the future would be thrown away.
If this sounds to you like a scene out of “Step Brothers”, you wouldn’t be too far off. Edelman and Slater, an odd couple at face value, shared a house for four seasons.
“We have a lot of fun with one another,” Slater said. “Of course nothing got thrown out. Sometimes I feel like he’s a little brother to me. We’re always giving each other a hard time, but I love the guy, man. He’s been great to me.”
Edelman, Slater and former Patriots offensive lineman Ryan Wendell all were single in 2011 and looking to save some cash. So they rented a house, which isn’t uncommon for young Patriots players. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and linebackers Dane Fletcher and Niko Koutouvides also shared a house at the time with safety Ross Ventrone bouncing in and out as he signed, was released and re-signed to the team.
“Julian and I held different schedules and hours, but we just had a mutual respect for one another, and I think that’s what enabled it to work,” Slater said.
They housed together through life-changing moments ranging from multiple new contracts to Edelman’s arrest and dropped charges, a Super Bowl loss, a former teammate’s murder charge and the start of Deflategate. They were housemates during the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons before Slater got married and the living arrangements ended on a high note with the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX win.
“He’s probably the best roommate you could ever have, without a doubt,” Edelman said. “Him and his wife, Shahrzad, just unbelievable, great people. Just a person you can go home and you talk to over anything — life, football. Slate’s the type of guy who can really put things in perspective in a great way, whether it’s good or bad, he’s going to tell you and kind of bring you up. He’s probably the best teammate I’ve ever had. Generally, he’s up there. You can’t say enough words about him, his family, his mom, his dad, his brother, they’re just great people.”
Slater’s father, Jackie, is a Pro Football Hall of Famer who played right tackle for the Los Angeles Rams from 1976 to 1995. Living with Matthew gave Edelman, an NFL history buff, some valuable time with a legend including one night in 2012 when the receiver was on injured reserve with a broken foot.
Jackie, whose season as Azusa Pacific offensive line coach had ended a month earlier, was visiting for Christmas. Matthew went to bed early, since the Patriots’ season was still ongoing, and Edelman extracted tales of the glory days of Jackie’s career out of the legendary offensive tackle.
“He was pass-setting in the living room,” Edelman said. “My dad was a Rams fan growing up, so my dad loved Jackie Slater. To hear these stories and learn the history of the game through — he’s the greatest right tackle of all time. It’s truly a privilege to get to have that time.”
Edelman and Matthew Slater have “different personalities,” as the special-team captain acknowledged, and that’s an understatement. Slater is as defined by his faith as he is his special-teams prowess. It’s rare to see Slater without a smile on his face, and he’s approachable to all those around him from teammates to fans and the media.
Edelman is the rock star, currently sporting an unruly playoff beard. He frequently is featured in tabloids, and he’s as intense as he is quick-witted. Recently NFL Films microphones caught Patriots receiver Chris Hogan congratulating Edelman on breaking the Patriots’ postseason receiving record. “F— that. I want to win. Let’s go. I hate that,” was Edelman’s response.
But their early NFL journeys were similar.
The Patriots selected Slater in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft after he bounced around between offense, defense and special teams at UCLA. Edelman went in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft as a wide receiver after playing quarterback in college. They both briefly moved from receiver to defensive back in their first year living together.
“I saw the situation that he came into was a very unique one, the transition that he was trying to make,” Slater said. “I came here without a position myself. I tried to encourage him as best as I could. I obviously didn’t have it all figured out by the time he got here but just tried to teach him. Another California kid, there was that connection right away.”
Edelman has emerged into one of the NFL’s premier receivers while Slater is a six-time Patriots captain, six-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time All-Pro. The two are preparing for their third Super Bowl together and their first living apart, because Slater’s wife officially put the quash on the old living arrangements.
“I was joking saying, ‘Hey baby, you wanna live with Julian and the guys?’ And she, ‘Absolutely not.’ He’s been great to me, my wife loves him, he’s been great to my son,” Slater said.
Thumbnail photos via Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports Images