THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Chief objective for Vrabel remains same

Mike Vrabel will give his all. Mike Vrabel will give his all.
By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / March 7, 2009
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An eight-year affiliation doesn't just fade away in a trade.

Thus, it was natural that when answering questions from the Kansas City media yesterday, former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel had a momentary lapse. He referred to the Patriots as "we" while discussing how much attention Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez draws from defenses.

There is no "we" in New England for Vrabel anymore. The venerable linebacker and prototypical Patriot was sent to Kansas City, along with quarterback Matt Cassel, for the Chiefs' second-round pick (No. 34 overall) in a deal announced last Saturday. The surprising details of the deal began to leak out the day before, when Vrabel confirmed he had been traded.

Speaking for the first time as a Chief, Vrabel did not take any parting shots at the Patriots or coach Bill Belichick, but he made it clear that leaving the team was neither his choice nor his request. If it had been, you can bet he wouldn't have asked to be traded to a team coming off a 2-14 season.

When asked whether exiting Foxborough was his idea, Vrabel, whose inclusion in the Cassel trade saved the Patriots about $3.3 million of the $4.3 million he was slated to count against their salary cap in 2009, echoed a phrase made popular by his former coach.

"I wouldn't say that is necessarily true, but the situation is what it is," said Vrabel. "So, to be anything but excited wouldn't be giving the Chiefs, [their] players, myself, and the fans the respect that they deserve. I am playing for the Chiefs. So, whoever I was going to be playing for this year, I would give them the same effort."

The 12-year veteran, entering the final season of his contract, bristled at a question about whether he'd be playing his 13th NFL season with the proverbial chip on his shoulder because the Patriots jettisoned him.

However, Vrabel, who will turn 34 in August, made it abundantly clear he still feels that at this stage of his career, he can be productive.

"Let's put it this way: This is a production business and the bottom line is it is all about production," said Vrabel. "You put those eight years up against a lot of different guys, I would be really happy with what I did in those eight years. With that being said, I know that I have got some more football left. I can still play, and I can still help the Chiefs, and I will help the Chiefs.

"I have never gone into a season and said, 'I am going to do this, this, and this.' I will promise you that I will work. I'll be consistent, and, God willing, I will be durable. Those are the things that I like to think that I brought to the table in New England and will bring to the table in Kansas City."

Indeed, Vrabel missed just three of 125 regular-season games with the Patriots, and those were because of a broken right arm in 2003. That toughness, dedication, and preparation are part of the reason Kansas City general manager and former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli wanted Vrabel in on the ground floor of the Chiefs' rebuilding project.

Vrabel is not just an upgrade talent-wise. He can instill the culture of success that Pioli wants to cultivate in KC. He won't do it by flashing his three Super Bowl rings from the Patriots, but with the same lunchpail persona he had in New England.

"I don't even have my rings out," said Vrabel. "People ask me why I don't have jerseys up, why I don't have my rings out in my house, and this is a perfect example why, because one day you could go from being a three-time Super Bowl champ to being a member of the Chiefs.

"My stance is going to be to contribute to that team however I can. To think that I am going to come in and say, 'I have three Super Bowl rings and went 18-0 and lost in the Super Bowl,' will never even cross my mind. It will be about working, it will be about how to make sure everybody finds a role and tries to carry out that role."

While Vrabel's production may have dipped last season - he finished fifth on the Patriots in tackles with 67, according to coaches' calculations, but his sack number dropped from a career-high 12 1/2 in 2007 to four - his loss is still significant.

"Yeah, he's been a staple of the team for a while," said running back Sammy Morris, who was participating in a Patriots Charitable Foundation event in East Boston. "It's definitely going to be difficult. Change is pretty much the constant in football. It is what it is. I hate to see him go, but . . . "

The quote was unfinished, but the thought was not: Football is a business without sentimentality.

The last time Vrabel changed teams, back in 2001 when he left the Pittsburgh Steelers for the Patriots, it was his choice. This time he has no choice but to start over, at the bottom, with the Chiefs.

"To say that I'm anything but excited about it and about the opportunity wouldn't be the truth," said Vrabel. "I am looking forward to it, and we will see where it goes from here."

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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