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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Izzo staying on board

Entering his 12th NFL season, linebacker and special teams captain Larry Izzo wanted to see what type of interest he might generate in free agency.

The Texans were a possibility. So were the Jets. But in the end, Izzo felt most comfortable returning to the Patriots, so the sides finalized a contract yesterday.

"In the end, my main goal was to stay here in New England," said the 32-year-old Izzo, who tied for the team lead with 15 special-teams tackles last season. "As a free agent, you explore your options, but I'm just very happy that I was able to come to a decision to be able to stay here."

A three-time Pro Bowler as a special teamer, the 5-foot-10-inch, 228-pound Izzo has been an ironman, missing only one game since joining the Patriots as a free agent prior to the 2001 season. The special teams unit lost an important veteran when Don Davis retired, so having Izzo return took on added importance.

Another factor for Izzo was his familiarity with his teammates and the Patriots' way of doing things.

"For me, that was something that was important," he said. "When you get up and you go to work every day and you enjoy getting up and going into the stadium, that says a lot for the people you work with, whether it's the players, the coaches, the trainers.

"We have a good core group of guys who have been together here for a while. I like the program."

Izzo also likes the Patriots' recent free agent signings.

"Obviously, you don't win any games in March," he said, "but whenever you bring in some talent the way we've brought it in here the last couple of days, it's pretty exciting, especially considering where we finished last year."

Play now, pay later?
The Patriots hosted receiver Donte' Stallworth yesterday at Gillette Stadium, and he is scheduled to continue his free agent tour with visits to the Titans and Dolphins. The Patriots appeal to Stallworth because of the presence of quarterback Tom Brady. Since Stallworth has generated little interest in the market, he could elect to take a short-term deal in New England with the idea that playing with Brady would increase his value in the future. At one point yesterday, a Philadelphia-based media outlet reported the Patriots had reached a long-term agreement with Stallworth, but that was not the case . . . Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain's career with the Patriots officially came to an end yesterday when he signed a three-year contract with the 49ers. A seventh-round pick of the Patriots in 2003, Banta-Cain grew up in Sunnyvale, Calif., so the signing was a homecoming of sorts.

Graham, Broncos agree
Tight end Daniel Graham and the Denver Broncos agreed on a five-year, $30 million deal last night, with $15 million guaranteed . . . Though the Patriots have signed veteran tight end Kyle Brady, their quarterback will not have to have the back of his jersey changed to include the first initial of his first name. In previous years, players on the same team with the same last name had to be distinguished by having their initial added. But NFL owners voted to change that rule . . . Running back Heath Evans's two-year extension with the Patriots is worth $1.56 million. He received a $250,000 signing bonus as part of the deal . . . Running back Sammy Morris's four-year, $7 million contract included a $1.5 million signing bonus and roster bonuses of $750,000 in both 2007 and 2008.

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