Longtime Patriots assistant coach Pepper Johnson will not be returning to the team for the 2014 season.
The 49-year-old Johnson, who served as linebackers coach for the last two years after eight years as the defensive line coach, also coached inside linebackers from 2001-03, after beginning his coaching career as a defensive assistant in 2000, at the start of Bill Belichick’s tenure with New England.
A two-time Pro Bowler during his 13-year career, Johnson played for Belichick with the Giants, Browns, and Jets, and won five Super Bowl rings: two as a player and three as a coach.
In a statement he released to ESPN.com, Johnson said, “Today marks a new day for me. Today is a new day full of promise and hope. It is also a day to reflect, as I embark upon a new journey. 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.
“Today also marks the first day in 26 years that I am not working in some capacity with one of the greatest coaches of all time, as well as my friend, Bill Belichick.
“Football is my life. From putting my body on the line, my hand in the dirt, to teaching others to do the same, this will continue for me . . . I have big dreams and goals and they all involve football. So as I soak in this new day and embark on wherever my new path takes me, I shall embrace this new chapter in my life.”
Johnson went on to thank the Patriots organization, the Kraft family, Belichick, and Patriots fans: “I will miss you the most,” he said of the team’s followers.
It wasn’t a secret around the team that Johnson wanted to become more than a position coach, and he was passed over for a bigger role in 2012 when Belichick officially elevated Matt Patricia to defensive coordinator.
It is unknown where Johnson will work next, though by his statement he has no intention of leaving the game.
There was no comment from the team on Johnson’s departure. But Vince Wilfork, who had been coached by Johnson since his rookie year, did take to Twitter to share his thoughts.
“Pepper Johnson will always be a part of my family,” Wilfork wrote. “One thing about football is the bonds you make that go beyond the team you work for. In my 10 years of being a NEP he has always been a constant and a hell of a coach. But change is always a constant in life. All good things must come to an end.
“I wish him nothing but the best and I know he will continue to have an impact on football.”
The Patriots signed defensive lineman Marcus Forston to a futures contract Tuesday, one day after they announced futures deals for the other seven players who ended the season on the practice squad. Listed at 6 foot 3 inches, 305 pounds, Forston played in three games this season . . . Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has been chosen to replace Tom Brady in the Pro Bowl. It’s Smith’s first Pro Bowl. Kansas City will be sending 10 players to Hawaii. Brady bowed out of the game one day after New England lost to Denver in the AFC Championship game.