Tedy Bruschi, often described by teammates as the heart and soul of the Patriots' championship defenses, announced yesterday he would sit out the 2005 season.
Bruschi, 32, suffered a stroke Feb. 16 -- 10 days after helping the Patriots top the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, and three days after his first Pro Bowl appearance. A month later he underwent a procedure to repair a hole in his heart that was believed to be the cause of the stroke.
He had been weighing his options since, hoping to return to the field for his 10th season when the team reports to training camp next week. He participated in some of the team's offseason programs and attended meetings during a June minicamp, but was not cleared by doctors for all football activities.
After a New England Cable Network report Tuesday indicated that he was almost certain to return this season, Bruschi asked the team to release a statement announcing his decision.
''His health has improved steadily during the past five months and Tedy continues to make daily improvements with his ongoing rehabilitation," team spokesman Stacey James said in the statement. ''It has been an offseason of many emotional highs and lows for Tedy and his family.
''Tedy pledges to focus on his health and his family while continuing to offer ongoing support to his teammates throughout the upcoming season."
The Globe reported in March that Bruschi was considering sitting out the 2005 season. That month the linebacker also hired agent Brad Blank, the first time he's had an agent since his rookie season.
Yesterday, Blank said the decision does not mean Bruschi's career is over.
''It's not a retirement," Blank said. ''That much I know."
Bruschi has three years remaining on a contract he signed in 2004, and is scheduled to earn $850,000 this season, $1.35 million in 2006, and $1.7 million in 2007. A retirement would have voided that deal, but he could earn his full salary this season should the Patriots put him on the physically unable to perform list. If he is placed on the non-football-related injury list, the team isn't required to pay his salary, but would likely do so.
Coach Bill Belichick said in a statement yesterday that Bruschi's status has not been determined. It won't be long, though: The team has to inform the NFL of Bruschi's designation by July 29.
''All offseason, we have seen and felt Tedy's strong and upbeat presence," Belichick said. ''As usual, we will keep the focus on the short term and address the future in due course. We are pleased Tedy continues to be part of the team and he has our complete support."
Bruschi finished second on the team in tackles (122) to Rodney Harrison and second in interceptions (3) to Eugene Wilson in 2004. He has been a team captain the past three seasons.
''Everyone just wants him to be healthy and everyone wants him to live a healthy life from here on out," quarterback Tom Brady said during the team's minicamp. ''So many guys finish this game and probably have left a lot of years on the field. That's a big part of it for players. You have to decide the risk of playing every year.
''He had a stroke. For him to come back would be pretty remarkable. If there's anybody who could do it, it's Tedy Bruschi."
The Patriots have been preparing for the possibility that Bruschi would not play this season. Chad Brown, entering his 13th season in the league, signed with New England as a free agent in May and is likely to replace Bruschi in the starting lineup. Fellow free agent Monty Beisel turned down an offer to remain with Kansas City after the Patriots told him a starting position could become open.
The Patriots signed two rookie draft picks yesterday, offensive tackle Nick Kaczur and safety James Sanders, leaving only the team's top two picks unsigned.
Terms of the contracts were not released.
Rookies began conditioning workouts yesterday and officially report for the start of training camp Sunday. A team source said negotiations with first-round choice Logan Mankins (No. 32 overall) and the first of two third-round choices, Ellis Hobbs, a cornerback from Iowa State, are progressing.
Kaczur, a third-round choice from Toledo, enters camp as a second-team tackle. Sanders, taken in the fourth round from Fresno State, is expected to compete for a backup spot.