Players and coaches from around the NFL have been near-unanimous in vocalizing their displeasure with the league’s new rule allowing fair catches on kickoffs to place the ball at the 25-yard line. On Wednesday, another key player with more invested in preserving the play than perhaps any other added his name to chorus of those decrying the rule change: Patriots special teams star Matthew Slater.
Slater, a 15-year NFL veteran who’s made 10 Pro Bowls and earned five All-Pro selections as a special teamer, spoke to the media to offer his thoughts on the rule, questioning the league’s stance that the change is being motivated by player safety.
“It’s my understanding that the powers that be think that this is gonna improve player safety and health, and I’m just not convinced that our league is always gonna do what’s in the best interest of our players,” Slater said. “I understand that we want to reduce head injuries and things of that nature. But we don’t always act as if player health and safety is paramount.”
Slater pointed to issues like Thursday night games and turf fields as examples of the NFL not prioritizing players’ health, and lamented how difficult a process it can be for retired players to apply for healthcare benefits after they leave the league. He also posited that the NFL has not made sufficient steps to make the actual kickoff play itself safer beyond its attempts to minimize how often the play occurs.
“It’s clear to me that they’re making an effort to eradicate this play. They say that they’re making the play safer, but the reality is they haven’t done a single thing to make the play safer,” Slater said. “They haven’t changed the rules, they haven’t changed the technique. There’s still gonna be collisions that occur if the ball is not fair caught.”