End of an era

Patriots send Seymour to the Raiders

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / September 7, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Richard Seymour hinted to fellow defensive end Ty Warren during the offseason that he thought his days as a Patriot could be nearing the end.

Warren didn’t think much of Seymour’s cryptic comments until he got an early morning text message from Seymour yesterday saying the Patriots had sent Seymour to Oakland for a 2011 first-round pick.

Just like that, the man teammates called “Big Sey’’ said see ya, his Patriots career over after eight seasons.

“He will definitely be missed,’’ said Warren. “I got his phone number. It won’t be hard to talk to him. But as far as a teammate, he’ll definitely be missed. But, again, it’s the nature of the business. He knew that. It came to fruition and that’s what it is.’’

The stunning trade came just eight days before the Patriots open their season against Buffalo on “Monday Night Football.’’ The trade of the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end leaves just four players that have been with New England for all three of its Super Bowl championship seasons (2001, 2003, and 2004) - Tom Brady, Matt Light, Kevin Faulk, and Stephen Neal - while, in the short term, weakening the team’s pursuit of another title by breaking up one of the NFL’s elite defensive lines.

This was the final season of the lucrative, $30-million-plus contract extension Seymour received in 2006, the last time he was entering the last year of his contract. He was set to make $3.685 million in base salary and carry a cap charge of $9.79 million this season.

Perhaps faced with choosing between re-signing Seymour or nose tackle Vince Wilfork (also in the final contract year), and with more personnel flexibility because of the increased use of 4-3 schemes, the Patriots made the difficult decision to get future value now at the cost of Seymour’s presence this season.

“From nearly the day he arrived in 2001, Richard Seymour established himself as one of our premier players for nearly a decade,’’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick in a statement. “His presence has been felt as a force on the field, a respected man off it, and a multiyear champion.

“Any transaction we make is with the goal of what is best for our team and as difficult as it is to part ways with a player of Richard’s stature, many factors were taken into account when we considered this trade. As an organization, we feel the trade with Oakland brings sufficient value and is in the long-term interest of the club. We are extremely grateful for the huge impact Richard’s elite level of performance had on our success, and we wish him the very best during the rest of his career.’’

Seymour, 29, was taken with the sixth pick in the 2001 draft and became an integral cog in the team’s 3-4 defense from the outset, helping the Patriots win their first Super Bowl as a rookie. He made five straight Pro Bowls (2002-06) and was a three-time Associated Press first-team All-Pro (2003-05).

Seymour drew criticism for diminished play in 2006 and 2007 as he dealt with injuries. In 2006, he played with an elbow injury. After the season, he had arthroscopic surgery to clean up cartilage damage in his left knee. But his recovery was slow and he missed the first seven games of the 2007 season.

Finally healthy last season, Seymour returned to form, finishing with 63 tackles and tying his career-high with eight sacks. Seymour started 105 of 111 games for the Patriots, totaling 460 total tackles. His 39 sacks are tied for 10th in franchise history

As a dominant defensive end in a 3-4 defense, Seymour’s impact wasn’t always apparent on the stat sheet, but it was to his teammates.

“His sack totals weren’t high. Mine weren’t high. That’s the defense we play in,’’ said Warren. “We’re run-stoppers first and play the pass second. That’s just what we played with. Everybody knows what Seymour brought to the table and everybody knows what I bring to the table, and Vince and right on down the line.’’

Seymour was not just a stubborn force on the field, he was one off it, too. He held out of training camp in 2005 to get his deal reworked, a prelude to the extension he signed in 2006.

Teammates admired Seymour for his persistence, honesty, and accountability.

A melancholy Wilfork, who seemed most affected by Seymour’s departure, said losing Seymour was like losing family, both on and off the field, and that he will be missed.

Wilfork lamented the breakup of one of the NFL’s best defensive lines but said he and the team have no choice but to move on.

“We’re all professionals. Change happens all the time. Every year you have change, you have roster change, you have everything changing,’’ said Wilfork. “This is another change and we’re going to have to deal with it. I don’t care how you feel about it. You got to deal with it and move on.’’

Ultimately, Wilfork repeated a familiar refrain in Foxborough that is used to explain the loss of a teammate or to overlook any unpleasant occurrence.

“It is what it is,’’ said Wilfork. “Don’t get it twisted, it is a business and you have to move on. We will. As a defensive lineman, as a friend of his, as an organization and a team, we have to move on from it and we will.

“This is shocking, but at the same time that’s the business side to it. That’s nothing but business, and you just move on from it.’’

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