Over the years, the New England Patriots have had to deal with the loss of several key veterans who played important roles in their Super Bowl dynasty.
Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Mike Vrabel, Troy Brown, Drew Bledsoe - all have either found new homes or ultimately retired to cap long, successful careers.
Tedy Bruschi is one of the rare exceptions. Often considered the heart and soul of New England's Super Bowl defense through the years, Bruschi has been a member of the Patriots his entire career and is one of only a small handful of players who've been on all three of New England's championship teams.
As he enters his 14th season and the final year of his current contract, Bruschi is keeping his options open. The veteran linebacker's role has diminished in the last few years, but he might not be ready to hang up his helmet just yet.
"I have to give them everything I have this year and only think about what's next," Bruschi said during his charity golf tournament in Boston. "I'm going to prepare myself for this season, only think about this season, and when the season is over, which is a long ways away, then you think about delving into those decisions."
Through the years, Bruschi has never hired an agent and has always negotiated his own contacts. He's also taken home-town discounts to remain in New England. Even if he'd like to stay beyond 2009, he is cognizant of the fact the team might want to go in a different direction at the end of the season depending on how he performs.
Bruschi is now 36 years old and much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, yet he finished 2008 fourth on the team in tackles with 72 and was still producing at a high level until a knee injury ended his season in December.
The 14-year veteran doesn't play on every down like he once did; he comes off the field on passing downs and is utilized primarily in rush defense situations. However, it's unlikely Junior Seau will be back again in 2009, so the Patriots may need Bruschi to resume his role as a regular starter - albeit in a limited capacity on passing downs.
Dallas Cowboys Marion Barber tackled by New England Patriots Tedy Bruschi & Mike Vrabel Oct 14, 2007 (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam)
While his role on defense is still valuable, the Patriots might actually need his leadership this year more than ever now that Vrabel and Rodney Harrison (retirement) are no longer with the team.
"I think I'll be the same leader I've always been and I hope that young guys see it as we've lost some experienced veteran leadership, and they take it upon themselves to say 'I need to be a leader now,'" Bruschi.
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