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Pepper Johnson leaving Patriots coaching staff

Pepper Johnson (above) will not return to the Patriots next season.

Elise Amendola/AP

Pepper Johnson (above) will not return to the Patriots next season.

The first domino of the Patriots offseason fell Tuesday when longtime assistant coach Pepper Johnson announced he would not return to Bill Belichick’s staff.

The move marks the end of a longtime partnership between Johnson and Belichick, who also coach Johnson during his playing days with the Giants.

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In a statement to ESPN, Johnson praised Belichick and called him his friend, but added his “dreams and goals ... all involve football.”

Johnson was part of Belichick’s staff in some form since the coach came to New England in 2000. He joined the staff full-time the next season.

Johnson coached the linebackers the past two seasons, but also had served as the defensive line coach.

“Today is the first day in 13 years that I am not a part of the New England Patriots, although I will always be a Patriot in my heart,” Johnson said. “Today also marks the first day in 26 years that I am not working in some capacity with one of greatest head coaches of all time, as well as my friend, Bill Belichick.”

Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork praised Johnson in a message posted to Twitter.

“He has always been a constant and a hell of a coach,” Wilfork said.

“But change is also a constant in life. All good things must come to an end.”

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