It is the end of the road for Matthew Slater. The longtime captain and special teams ace of the New England Patriots has announced his retirement from the NFL after 16 seasons in the league. Slater rolled out a lengthy farewell in a statement released by the team where he thanked everyone from his family to his teammates to the Kraft family to Bill Belichick. 

To begin his farewell statement, Slater referenced the bible verse 2 Timothy 4:7: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

"For as long as I can remember, football has been one of the passions of my heart," Slater wrote. "Some of my earliest memories of the game are of watching my dad prepare for training camp with the Los Angeles Rams. We spent every summer in Meridian, Mississippi visiting my grandparents. During those hot summer days in Meridian, I would often tag along with my dad to the local high school field. While I sat in the shade asking for snow cones, my father would methodically put himself through the paces. I remember those days more clearly than I remember his games. They weren't glamorous. There was no crowd around to cheer him on. There were no lights flashing. There were no critics critiquing. Just a man, my hero, dedicating himself to the game he loved so much. Never burdened by the work, he understood it was a blessing to do what he loved. It was a gift from the Lord. To experience the love that my hero had for the game in word and deed was transformative. I soon began to develop those same feelings for the game that had been so good to our family.

"For the last 25 years of my life, 16 of them as a New England Patriot, I have been incredibly blessed to be able to emulate the man I saw on those fields in Meridian by playing the game that I love so much. I have given all that I possibly can to respect and honor the game. Though it is time for my relationship with the game to evolve, the love I have for it will last a lifetime." 

To conclude his retirement announcement, Slater thanked his father, Jackie, who was a Hall of Fame offensive tackle for the Rams. 

"Dad, you blazed the trail," Slater wrote. "You set the standard. I hope I didn't miss anything. I hope I followed those footsteps well. It was never a burden. Only a blessing. A gift from the Lord." 

Slater was drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of UCLA. While technically listed as a wide receiver, The 38-year-old was lauded for his ability on special teams and is considered to be among the greatest gunners in league history. Earlier this year, Belichick even noted that Salter should be a Hall of Fame candidate. 

"Matthew Slater deserves every accolade someone could receive," the former Patriots head coach said in a statement in wake of Slater's retirement, via ESPN. "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. He has been a great role model for the teams players & coaches) that I have coached. 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 was named to 10 Pro Bowls and received eight All-Pro nods (five first-team). He was also on hand for three Super Bowl championships with the Patriots and is a member of the franchise's All-Dynasty Team and All-2010s Team. 

On top of his contributions on the field, Slater proved to be a key leader for the club throughout his tenure, oftentimes being seen breaking the team huddle following games as one of the longtime captains. 

This announcement doesn't come as much of a surprise as the writing was on the wall for Slater at the end of the 2023 regular season. In the regular-season finale against the New York Jets, the Patriots donned special "Captain 18" hoodies before the game and Slater had an emotional embrace with his fame before taking the field in what has proven to be his final game.