New England Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick issued the following statement on the team's website today sharing his thoughts on Stephen Neal's retirement.
“They don’t come any better than Steve Neal. In terms of improvement and development as a player, Steve may have accomplished more than any player I have ever been around. His toughness, intelligence and competitiveness were at rare levels and all contributed to him going from being a champion in an individual sport to being an integral part of championship teams. I congratulate Steve for an incredible career and thank him for everything he did for me personally, our team and organization.”
Neal's retirement is a large blow to a already thin offensive line and the team will be hard pressed to find a replacement of his caliber. The 10-year veteran dealt with many lingering injuries throughout his career but was an integral part of the organization's success over the last decade. He was a member of each of the three Super Bowl winning squads and played in eight games during the Patriots perfect 2007 Regular Season. He also returned to start all three playoff games that season, including Super Bowl XLII.
The 34-year-old signed a two year contract prior to the 2010 season, but opted for retirement rather than playing another year. Neal started eight games for the Patriots in 2010, but again sustained a shoulder injury which required surgery and landed him on the injured reserve.