New England Patriots captain Matthew Slater expressed his strong disapproval of the NFL’s recent rule change allowing fair catches on kickoffs for the 2023 season.
Slater, a 10-time Pro Bowl selection and son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, openly questioned the league’s motives and argued that player safety was not the primary concern behind the decision.
Under the new rule, any fair catch made on a kickoff will result in the ball being placed at the 25-yard line, regardless of where the catch was made. This change was implemented to counteract the increased use of “pop-up” kickoffs by some teams to pin the receiving team deep in their own territory.
During a press conference following the Patriots’ practice session, Slater voiced his skepticism about the league’s claim that the rule change was driven by player health and safety considerations. He stated, “I just don’t believe this is truly in the name of player health and safety. What I do believe is, ‘We [the NFL] want to portray ourselves a certain way to the public that says we care about the players.'”
Slater went on to point out various instances where he believes the league did not act in the best interest of the players, despite claiming to prioritize their well-being.
Matthew Slater on new kickoff rule: "I'm just not convinced that our league is always going to do what's in the best interest of our players… I don't believe that this is truly in the name of player health and safety" pic.twitter.com/SVjCWkSDqN
— NBC Sports Boston's Patriots Coverage (@NBCSPatriots) May 31, 2023
The veteran special teams player cited examples such as the introduction of Thursday night football, the preference for synthetic turf over natural grass fields, the struggle of retirees to secure extended healthcare benefits, and the challenges players face when seeking disability benefits.
Slater acknowledged the importance of reducing head injuries but argued that the league should focus on addressing more significant issues affecting player safety, rather than altering a play that statistically results in minimal injuries.
Slater also acknowledged his personal interest in the matter, acknowledging that some may question the significance of the rule change. He expressed, “For a player like myself, I wouldn’t have had a career most likely [without] this play,” adding, “I [also] understand the players that came before me — the [Steve] Taskers, the [Bill] Bateses … — who were able to establish themselves and have careers in this league because of the kicking game.”
Matthew Slater’s criticism of the NFL’s kickoff rule change is part of a significant debate within the football community. Recently, the Kelce brothers took aim at the NFL rule changes calling them: ‘Absolutely Stupid’
As one of the league’s most respected special teams players, his voice carries weight and could potentially influence future discussions on player safety and rule modifications.
The debate between preserving the tradition of the kickoff and prioritizing player safety is likely to continue as the NFL seeks to strike a balance between the two.