As the “who was more important” debate regarding the dynasty of the New England Patriots continues to tilt in Tom Brady’s direction, Bill Belichick has not been shy about subtly attempting to sway things in his favor.
When Brady, who has gone 24-9 in the regular season in Tampa Bay and 5-1 in the playoffs including a Super Bowl victory, announced in February that he was hanging up his cleats, Belichick congratulated him on his career but also patted himself on the back for giving the 44-year-old quarterback his first shot at greatness.
“I am privileged to have drafted and coached Tom Brady, the ultimate competitor and winner,” Belichick wrote. “Tom’s humble beginning in professional football ultimately ended with him becoming the best player in NFL history.”
Speaking last week at the NFL’s Annual League Meeting in Florida, Belichick made another remark that could be viewed as a subtle shot at his former quarterback while discussing resigning longtime Patriots special teams star Matthew Slater. Though the phrasing of Belichick’s comment was somewhat awkward, he basically compared Slater’s impact on special teams with Brady’s impact on offense and New York Giants Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor’s impact on defense.
“Certainly Matt Slater will go up there, in the kicking game, with (Tom) Brady on offense and (Lawrence) Taylor on defense,” Belichick said, via ESPN. “So I feel very, very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach all the players, but I’d say those three in particular.”
A 10-time Pro Bowler who is technically a wide receiver but has just one career catch during his 14 NFL seasons, Slater is considered one of the NFL’s greatest gunners but almost exclusively plays on special teams. With 172 tackles in his career, the 36-year-old is unquestionably an incredibly valuable asset on special teams, but comparing his impact on the outcome of a game with Brady’s is a massive stretch.
With 351 overall snaps on special teams last season, Slater played an average of 20 plays per game for New England. And, given the NFL’s new kicking rules and the increasing number of touchbacks that occur on kickoffs, the importance of a gunner (someone whose sole job is to run down the field and make a tackle during a kick return) on those 20 plays is reduced. As a quarterback, Brady is not only in on nearly every single offensive play, he also assists in calling plays and coaching up his offensive playmakers. (It’s another matter entirely, but the one-year contract Slater signed to return to the Pats this season for $2.62 million is actually kind of a massive overpayment when you consider Brady will be making a little bit more than $25 million this season for the Bucs.) Slater does give a great postgame speech though.
Great as he is as an NFL special teamer, Slater isn’t even in Brady’s league in terms of importance. Belichick — who has gone 17-16 over the last two seasons without Brady and lost his lone playoff game — knows that, but if he can’t beat Brady on the field he can at least try to knock him down a peg off of it. It won’t work.