After 16 consecutive seasons with the New England Patriots, special teams expert Matthew Slater retired from the NFL.

The Patriots posted Slater’s message to his fans on social media.

“I have given all that I possibly can to respect and honor the game,” Slater wrote. “Though it is time for my relationship with the game to evolve, the love I have for it will last a lifetime.”

Slater was a fifth round draft pick by the Patriots in 2008. In his first training camp, he had doubts if he would ever make the team as a dedicated special teams player. Fast forward 16 years, and he’s retiring as a Patriots legend.

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Former Patriots head coach Bill Belichick referred to Slater as the greatest to play the game in his role saying he felt so lucky to have coached the best players of all time in special teams (Slater), offense (Tom Brady) and in defense (Lawrence Taylor).

“He deserves every accolade someone could receive,” Belichick said. “He is a once in a lifetime person, and the best core special teams player in NFL history. His daily, weekly, and yearly work ethic, paved the way for his unsurpassed performance. Matthew is the finest example of what an intense competitor and human being should be. … Matthew is exceedingly kind, and supremely loved and respected by all his peers. I am one of many who feel incredibly blessed to be his teammate, coach, and friend.”

Slater won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and became the franchise’s all-time leader in special teams tackles in 239 games played, the second most for any Patriots player behind Brady at 285. He played 25 playoff games in his career which ranks ninth for any player in NFL history.

At 38, he has been a captain on the team for 13 years straight with some of the most powerful and meaningful post and pregame speeches. His teammates often spoke about how well he related football to life.

“As a player, God used the game of football to instruct, discipline, encourage and develop me as a person,” Slater said.

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