FOXBOROUGH -- The band could be breaking up.
Patriots’ defensive linemen Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green are all entering into the final year of their contracts -- among the veteran contributors, only Ty Warren is signed beyond the 2009 season (his deal runs through 2013). That means that a large part of the group that has dominated the trenches in the AFC for the better part of the decade could be playing elsewhere next season.
But while there are younger players in place to step up and potentially replace them, Green said Sunday that no matter what happens down the road, the connections he’s forged with the current nucleus of vets will not be broken.
“It’s great, man. It’s like we can go to each other’s homes and be comfortable. My clothes on my back are his clothes on his back,” Green said of the bond the New England defensive linemen currently share. “It’s just a bond that we have had for so long.
“I mean, me and Seymour have been together … we’re going on our eighth year together. Ty is seven, Vince is six, Mike Wright is five. That’s a big bond you have with your defensive line. One time, I remember that we were the young guys, me and Seymour, but now, we’re the older guys on not only the defensive line but the defense.”
In the relatively transitory nature of the NFL, it’s a group that can go back longer than most. The 29-year-old Seymour is just one of six players left on the roster who can trace his professional football lineage back to Foxboro Stadium, while the 30-year-old Green is third in seniority on the Patriots in terms of games played on the defensive side of the football. Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Wilfork was drafted in 2004 to replace Ted Washington, who is now out of football.
But Wilfork and the Patriots are apparently struggling to come to terms on an extension for the nose tackle. In addition, Seymour has also had issues in an attempt to reach common ground with the team on a contract past next season, and Green has openly discussed what it would be like to return home to play for his hometown Saints. (Green said the story was misinterpreted. “That was never said out of my mouth,” he told reporters Sunday.)
While the franchise would love nothing more than to keep them together, in today’s NFL climate, the reality is that all three will not be able to return in 2010. While Green says the linemen “really don’t talk about” the future, it put him in a philosophical frame of mind Sunday.
“The biggest thing we say is whatever happens, happens,” shrugged the 30-year-old.
“I’ve been seven years, and it’s been great,” he added. “A lot of championships have been won around here. It’s been a great thing as a player. This is home for me -- my wife and kids are up here year-round. So I would love to be here.”
If this season indeed marks the last go-round for them, then Green would love nothing more than to go out on a positive note. He struggled mightily with injuries last season, tying a career-low with just a pair of sacks while playing in 14 games, the least action he’s seen since he came into the NFL as a rookie out of LSU in 2002.
For someone who made his bones as a pass-rushing specialist, it represented a low-water mark.
“I’m doing good -- I’m making progress,” said Green, who had a career-best 7.5 sacks in 2006. “This is still our first week of training camp -- we’ve got five more weeks. So there’s a lot of time to knock all the rust off and get ready for the season.”
According to coach Bill Belichick, Green appears to be off to a good start. Calling Green a “consistently a good pass rusher,” he said the 6-foot-3, 285-pounder has had a “good camp.”
“I feel like he’s working hard. He’s in good shape and he’s shown up as a disruptive player on the front and in a lot of drills that we’re doing and in the one-on-one rushes,” Belichick said. “He’s a guy you can pretty much count on whether it’s training camp practice, regular season practice, preseason game, postseason game, regular-season game.
“He’s a very consistent player, and he’s shown that this camp.”