This Sunday could be the final time Matthew Slater takes the field at Gillette Stadium.
But he wasn’t interested in discussing that possibility Tuesday.
Ahead of the Patriots’ home finale against the Miami Dolphins, New England’s longtime special teams captain declined to say whether he plans to retire after this season.
“Look, I’m just trying to stay in the moment,” the 37-year-old said in a video conference. “Only the good Lord knows what’s in store for me beyond this very hour, so for me, it’s just to try to stay in the moment, enjoy the opportunity that I have. I know my opportunities are fleeting as an advanced-aged football player, but I’m thankful to be a part of this team.
“I’m thankful for another opportunity to come out and play at Gillette Stadium, and I’m going to try to make the most of it. Whatever happens after that, we’ll see, but I’m excited and thankful for this opportunity.”
Slater is the longest-tenured player on New England’s roster and the second-oldest behind 38-year-old kicker Nick Folk. He’s been with the Patriots since it selected him in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft and has enjoyed one of the greatest careers ever by an NFL special teamer, making 10 Pro Bowls and winning three Super Bowls in 15 seasons.
Once he retires, Slater should have a spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame and will have a case for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as arguably the best player ever to play his position. The Patriots also have found a worthy successor in undrafted rookie Brenden Schooler, who’s enjoyed what Slater himself called a Pro Bowl-caliber season in his first year in New England.
This game also could be the Foxboro swan song for 35-year-old safety Devin McCourty, the longtime leader of the Patriots’ secondary. McCourty, who is in the final year of his contract, has not announced his plans for 2023.
Slater and McCourty both are in their 12th season as Patriots captains.
After hosting Miami, the Patriots will close out the regular season next weekend in Buffalo. They remain alive in the AFC playoff race but can finish no higher than the seventh seed, meaning they cannot play a home playoff game.