Adam Schefter (ESPN) Veteran guard Neal not retiring. "The Patriots are still interested in retaining his services, but not before Neal at least tests the free-agent market first."
"He's going to be playing," Neal's agent, Neil Cornrich, said in brief comments Wednesday afternoon. "We expect there to be a vibrant free-agent market for his services."
In an offseason in which few starting-caliber offensive linemen will be available, Neal figures to be one of the premium free agents. The Patriots still are interested in retaining his services, but not before Neal at least tests the free-agent market first.
Since joining the Patriots in 2001, Neal has played in 78 games, starting 73 of them. Neal is 33 years old, which is old for a running back, but not a guard. He is one of football's toughest players, having been a national champion amateur wrestler that once defeated WWE champion, and UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
But one of Neal's most impressive feats came last season, when he played with broken ribs that few knew about. It was the latest testament to his toughness and one of the reasons some thought he would retire this offseason. Some thought, at Neal's age, he was finished played.
But Cornrich confirmed Neal is not done, and he intends not only to play next season but to do it at a high level.
Mike Reiss adds to the Stephen Neal decision, and what he might be looking for.
Titans starting guard Eugene Amano reportedly just signed an extension averaging about $5 million per season, so that provides a ballpark figure that Neal might be able to command on the market, likely on a shorter term deal. The presence of former Patriots offensive coaches in Denver (Josh McDaniels) and Kansas City (Charlie Weis) could also create a solid market for him.
After his last foray into free agency in 2006, Neal, a native of San Diego, told reporters that he would have considered a team closer to home. After reportedly visiting with the Vikings, Bills and Dolphins, he ended up re-signing in New England.
Karen Guregian spoke with Seattle WR Deion Branch to gauge his interest in coming back to play for the Patriots.
Tom Brady's former go-to guy gave an enthusiastic thumb’s up. Branch said he harbors no ill feelings toward Patriots coach Bill Belichick or the organization despite the contract dispute that led to his departure four years ago.
"(Going back to the Patriots) would be interesting to see. You know what, I talk to guys all the time. I never wanted to leave, nor did coach Belichick and his staff and the organization want me to leave, either," Branch said last night. "We just couldn’t get the contractual part down. We just couldn’t come to an agreement. And that stuff happens.
"I still love coach Belichick, and if the opportunity presents itself to come back, I would love to be there."
"Playing with [Tom Brady] is the best," Branch said. "He’s going to bring the best out of you because he’s a great competitor. . . .
"He is by far the best quarterback to play the game of football."
- Ian Rapoport heard from Neal Cornrich, Stephen Neal's agent, that the Patriots' guard never really considered retirement and wants to continue playing - preferably with the Patriots.
- Albert Breer notes Stephen Neal's agent pointed to some numbers on Neal at Pro Football Focus, which put him in the upper echelon of NFL guards.
- Mike Reiss reports the Seattle Seahawks weren't planning to release Branch but didn't rule out the possibility of trading him. What would the Patriots be willing to trade for him?
- Mike Reiss talks about Deion Branch and a buried hatchet. It's all good.
- Christopher Price gets NFL.com analyst Brian Baldinger's thoughts on the Patriots' Draft plans.
- Ian Rapoport notes the Patriots won't cut Adalius Thomas, or any player, until March 5th when the 2009 cap year ends. By the way, AD has not heard one word from the Pats since the season ended.
- Mike Reiss offers an updated look at Patriots players scheduled for unrestricted free agency with a quick-hit thought about each one.
- Albert Breer says 35 year old Mike Vrabel isn't quitting either.
- Mike Reiss looks into whether an Antonio Cromartie to the Patriots for Laurence Maroney trade could happen, putting it to the Wes Welker test.
- Mike Reiss considers the possibility of Pittsburgh Steeler Deshea Townsend, if the Patriots find themselves in the market for a veteran CB in free agency.
- Mike Reiss takes a closer look at the RB options in the Draft.
- Mike Reiss gets ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper's thinking behind giving the Patriots Brandon Graham instead of Ricky Sapp.
Jeff Howe looks at a handful of players the Patriots could be targeting at the top of the draft, if they decide to trade up.
- Erik Gallant caught Bill Belichick in Amherst watching UMass women's lacrosse defeat Holy Cross 15-6. His daughter Amanda Belichick is the asst. coach for the Minutewomen.
St. Stephen's Armenian Elementary School will be auctioning off a number of items, including an authentic New England Patriots gray hoodie sweatshirt customized by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick with his signature sleeve alterations. Signed and personalized for the winner by Coach Belichick. Way. Cool.
- Tim Graham (ESPN) Jets in better Super Bowl shape than the Pats.
- Tim Graham (ESPN) Draft Watch: AFC East.
- Free agency is changing, and NFL players aren't happy about it. (SI)
- Wes Bunting (Nat'l Football Post) With draft season now in full swing, here’s a breakdown of the nation’s top 30 players based on the National Football Post’s prospect grading scale.
- Mike Florio (Sporting News) Underwear Olympics, aka NFL Combine, irrelevant for evaluating NFL talent.
- Shutdown Corner (Yahoo! Sports) A still-remorseful Donte' Stallworth gets another chance, signing a one-year deal with the Ravens.
- Shutdown Corner (Yahoo! Sports) This is the Lombardi Trophy. Made of bacon. (And I thought a football-shaped cheese ball was creative.)
- Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk) In uncapped year, Steelers plan to apply their own cap.
- Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk) Lions will use a self-imposed cap too. Collusion, or just good business sense? Interesting.
WAPT (Indiana ABC Ch. 16) Indiana governor makes good on Saints bet. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is flying a New Orleans Saints flag outside his Statehouse office, "where, incidentally, each day I'll be demonstrating how to cover an onside kick."