Patriots captain Matthew Slater may have saved the 2020 season from further opt-outs.
With COVID-19 protocols already failing spectacularly in the only non-bubble major sports league, many NFL stars have become wary of what the league’s superiors will be doing to protect them — and, frankly, there’s no amount of pages in a safety textbook that will make some players comfortable, and rightfully so.
The Patriots led the way in opt-outs this week, with high-risk OT Marcus Cannon, who battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, beginning the process, and Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung, considering the impact on their families, following suit.
As it turns out, New England nearly lost special teams icon Matthew Slater as well, but his last-minute change of heart may have stemmed the tide for a team that absolutely needed a break.
The 34-year-old special teamer is now the longest-tenured Patriot, and weighed the decision heavily before choosing to remain eligible in 2020, as of this writing.
NFL insider Mike Garafolo speculated in the wake of the decision that Slater may have been the swing vote in the decisions of many Patriots who were on the fence about 2020, which makes all the sense in the world.
“He being a team captain, I gather that some other guys were looking to Slater to see what he was going to do,” Garafolo said on air. “So it’s possible this list could have grown even more if he had opted out.”
With a leadership void in the Patriots locker room in 2020 (beyond, um, the best coaching staff in the NFL), it’ll be up to Slater and Julian Edelman to supercharge the duties they were already fulfilling.
For better or worse, Slater’s decisive call may have swayed a lot of Pats to rejoin the fray. And, as we’ve seen in MLB, players who opt out can always come back — Nick Markakis just did so with the Atlanta Braves, changing his mind.
Perhaps, midway through the season, some now-fresh members of the defense will do the same thing, too, if they garner confidence in the league.
Either way, Slater started the ball rolling in a decisive direction.