Patriots right guard Stephen Neal decided against retirement and reportedly agreed to a two-year contract Friday to remain with the only team he's ever known.
After the Patriots' playoff loss to the Ravens, Neal said he was considering retirement due to another season with injury issues. The 33-year-old was having one of his best seasons and was considered a Pro Bowl candidate before suffering a concussion in Week 10 against the Colts. He missed the Pats' Week 11 victory against the Jets but returned to play the Saints in Week 12, when he suffered an ankle injury and missed the next three games.
Neal has missed 20 games in the last four seasons, but while in the lineup, he's been a very dependable member of the team's offensive line. By re-signing with New England, the team has a great chance to return its core unit of starters for the sixth consecutive season. Left guard Logan Mankins is a restricted free agent, but it seems to be highly unlikely he'll land a contract with another team.
The move also allows the Patriots to focus on other needs via free agency, the trade market and the draft. If they weren't comfortable with heading into the season with Dan Connolly as their starting right guard, the Patriots would be forced to look at someone like free agent Bobbie Williams or former Idaho guard Mark Iupati, who is projected to be a first-round pick in April's draft.