In a move that sent shockwaves across the NFL, the Patriots traded five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders today in exchange for a 2011 first-round draft choice.
Seymour, 29, was an integral part of the Patriots’ three Super Bowl championship teams.
“From nearly the day he arrived in 2001, Richard Seymour established himself as one of our premier players for nearly a decade,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a statement. “His presence has been felt as a force on the field, a respected man off it, and a multi-year champion.
“Any transaction we make is with the goal of what is best for our team and, as difficult as it is to part ways with a player of Richard’s stature, many factors were taken into account when we considered this trade. As an organization, we feel the trade with Oakland brings sufficient value and is in the long-term interest of the club. We are extremely grateful for the huge impact Richard’s elite level of performance had on our success and we wish him the very best during the rest of his career.”
Seymour was entering the last year of his contract, and was due to make $3.685 million. That money now comes off the Patriots’ salary cap.
The Patriots have several key players with contracts set to expire after the season, and they might have weighed the likelihood of re-signing Seymour as part of their decision-making.
Eight-year veteran Jarvis Green, who has appeared in 108 regular-season games with 34 starts for the Patriots, projects as the top replacement for Seymour.
The Patriots have returning starters Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork on the defensive line, while five-year veteran Mike Wright and rookies Ron Brace (second round) and Myron Pryor (sixth round) are also part of the defensive line mix. The team has been experimenting with more four-man line schemes this preseason, so the versatility of all linemen could be tapped to replace Seymour, who led the team with eight sacks last season.
Wilfork's contract is due to expire after this season, and the Seymour trade could spark a resolution with his situation. Wilfork was one of several Patriots players Sunday who said they'd miss Seymour as both a friend and teammate.
"It is what it is. Don't get it twisted, it is a business and you have to move on," said Wilfork. "We will. As a defensive lineman, as a friend of his, as an organization and a team, we have to move on from it and we will. This is shocking, but at the same time that's the business side to it. That's nothing but business and you just move on from it. Forget how you feel about it. You have to deal with it."
Added Warren, "He will definitely be missed. I got his phone number. It won't be hard to talk to him, but as far as a teammate he'll definitely be missed, but again it's the nature of the business. He knew that. It came to fruition and that's what it is."
Seymour was selected by the Patriots in the first round of the 2001 draft, the first-ever first-round selection of the Bill Belichick era. The No. 6 overall selection, he made his mark immediately, his powerful 6-foot-6, 310-pound frame overpowering blockers and commanding extra attention from opposing offenses.
In eight seasons, Seymour started 105 of 111 regular-season games, and was credited with 460 tackles (256 solo) and 39 sacks. But his true value couldn’t be measured in statistics, as he was the type of presence that opponents had to game-plan around, which opened opportunities for others.
He helped contribute to six division championships, four conference titles and the three Super Bowl crowns. His five Pro Bowl appearances are the most by any Patriots defensive lineman since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Since Seymour joined the Patriots, the team has allowed an average of 17.8 points per game, which ranks third in the NFL over that span.
Seymour tied his career high with eight sacks last season, a reflection that he is still playing at a high level.
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com. The Globe's Christopher L. Gasper contributed to this report. The story was last updated at 2:21 p.m.