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Patriots lose Izzo to Jets

LARRY IZZOOn the other side now LARRY IZZOOn the other side now
By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / March 12, 2009
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Eric Mangini isn't the Jets' coach anymore, but that doesn't mean they have given up poaching players from the Patriots.

Yesterday, the Jets signed free agent Larry Izzo, who had spent the last eight seasons in New England and was a member of all three Patriots Super Bowl title teams.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Izzo became the third Patriot with a trio of Super Bowl rings earned in Foxborough to depart this offseason, joining long snapper Lonie Paxton, who signed a lucrative free agent deal with the Broncos, and outside linebacker Mike Vrabel, who was traded to the Chiefs as part of the Matt Cassel deal.

Like Vrabel, Izzo was part of the class of free agents Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli signed in 2001 that turned the Patriots from a franchise on the decline into the team of the decade. The 34-year-old, technically a linebacker, was special teams captain all eight seasons he played for the Patriots and led the team in special teams tackles in six seasons, including 2008, when he was credited with a team-high 14 stops.

Two of his three Pro Bowl berths came with the Patriots (2002 and '04).

Signing with the Jets reunites Izzo with his first NFL special teams coach, Mike Westhoff. The Jets' special teams coach since 2001, Westhoff spent the previous 15 years in Miami and helped Izzo, an undrafted rookie out of Rice in 1996, carve out a career that is entering its 14th season.

It also puts Izzo on the other side of a bitter rivalry, with his checks now signed by Jets owner Woody Johnson rather than Robert Kraft.

"I am very excited about the opportunity to play for the Jets and Mr. Johnson," Izzo said in a statement released by the Jets. "I'm grateful for the chance to be reunited with Coach Westhoff, who played a key role early in my career, and look forward to playing for Coach [Rex] Ryan as he brings his passionate, physical style of football to New York.

"Having spent my entire career in the AFC East, I'm very familiar with the Jets' incredibly loyal, knowledgeable, and passionate fans, and this is an amazing chance to work hard and make them proud."

Izzo has missed only one game since 1999, but it's possible he could face a suspension from the NFL stemming from his involvement with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO).

Izzo is on the government's witness list in the criminal case against home run king Barry Bonds. In a document outlining their witness list obtained by the Globe, prosecutors stated that Izzo would testify that Bonds's personal trainer, Greg Anderson, provided him with performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 - the season the Patriots won their second Super Bowl - and instructions and a schedule for using them.

Izzo, who testified before a federal grand jury investigating BALCO in December 2003, has never publicly admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, and the court document, filed in February in US District Court in San Francisco, did not state whether he used them or would testify to using them.

The NFL has previously stated it will only suspend Izzo if it has evidence he used performance-enhancing drugs.

Bonds's trial was scheduled to start March 2, but has been delayed because federal prosecutors have appealed the exclusion of evidence. It's possible the trial could be delayed for months, forcing Izzo to take the stand during the season.

The losses of Izzo and Paxton, coupled with the departure of special teams coach Brad Seely, will give the Patriots a markedly different look on special teams next season. It also strips New England of yet another link to its illustrious success since 2001.

The number of Patriots who have been a member of all three Super Bowl championship teams has been reduced to six: Tom Brady, Matt Light, Kevin Faulk, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, and Stephen Neal.

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

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