The Patriots will now be without a sixth player, and second captain, this season who started for them in the Super Bowl in February, as offensive lineman Dan Connolly has announced he is retiring.
The 32-year-old Connolly was a free agent and had received interest from New England and Tampa Bay, but he decided to call it a career after eight NFL seasons.
In an interview with ESPN, Connolly said the “biggest factor” in his decision was his health. He had four diagnosed concussions during his NFL career, and one while in high school.
“It’s important to me to leave the game healthy. I’m able to be here for my kids and walk away on my own terms,” said Connolly, who has three young daughters with wife Lori. “I feel like I got everything I could out of football . . . winning a Super Bowl and playing alongside some truly great players.”
The Patriots’ win over the Seahawks in the Super Bowl helped ease Connolly’s mind that he was making the best decision.
Undrafted out of Southeast Missouri State in 2005 and signed by the Jaguars, Connolly played four games as a rookie but missed the 2006 season because of injury.
After being released by Jacksonville during the 2007 preseason, Connolly arrived in New England on Sept. 12, 2007, and was signed to the practice squad, the type of lightly regarded lineman Patriots assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia had a knack for molding into a starter.
Connolly earned a spot on the 53-man roster in 2009, playing in 14 games, with four starts in place of Stephen Neal.
Connolly went on to start at all three interior spots along the offensive line with the Patriots.
In all, he played 89 regular-season games with 71 starts, plus 12 postseason games with 11 starts.
Last year, when the Patriots traded guard Logan Mankins on the eve of the regular season, Connolly played a big role in steadying the line, both with his leadership and his play.
While Connolly will be remembered as the sort of versatile, do-your-job player the Patriots look for, his career highlight came on Dec. 19, 2010. That night against the Packers, the 6-foot-4-inch, 305-pound Connolly lived out every lineman’s dream, fielding a short kickoff and returning it 71 yards. He was brought down just short of the goal line, but the Patriots scored a touchdown to trim their deficit to 17-14 at halftime, and they went on to win.
Connolly was named AFC special teams player of the week, recording the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman in league history.
Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion that night and missed the final two games of the regular season.
“With my football career coming to a close I am grateful for the opportunity given to me by the Kraft family and coach [Bill] Belichick,” Connolly said. “It is an honor to have been part of such a great organization.”
Without Connolly at left guard, the Patriots will likely turn to Marcus Cannon, though rookies Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason could get a look.
Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.