FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) – The New England Patriots defense headed in a new and improved direction Tuesday. One of its stars returned to the team instead of leaving it.

Richard Seymour ended his holdout by getting a new deal less than two weeks after linebacker Tedy Bruschi said he wouldn’t play this year and less than one week after linebacker Ted Johnson retired.

Seymour had two years left on the six-year, $14.3 million deal he signed after being taken with the sixth pick of the 2001 draft out of Georgia. Since then, he has made three Pro Bowls, emerged as one of the NFL’s best defensive linemen and thought he was underpaid.

So he stayed out of minicamp in June and didn’t report by last Thursday’s training camp deadline. And he didn’t take his gripes public, preferring a low-key approach while negotiations continued.

The team refused to give details of the new agreement. Eugene Parker, Seymour’s agent, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Seymour’s teammates were eager to praise one of their captains who many called a good friend with a solid professional approach.

“He’s the best in the business,” safety Rodney Harrison said. “He’s a beast. We miss his leadership. We miss his smile. We miss his competitiveness.”

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, a first-round pick from Miami last year, was happy with the return of a player who helped him through his rookie season.

“We’re all happy. I’m sure Seymour’s happy,” Wilfork said. “He’s probably got a few rust spots, but I think he’ll come in and pick up right where he left off.”

Seymour, 25, wasn’t at the morning practice Tuesday, where his return was announced by the team.

While the defensive line added its best player, the Patriots were exploring ways to fill the gaps left at inside linebacker. Bruschi isn’t playing after suffering a minor stroke last February, and Johnson surprised the team by retiring last Thursday, citing repeated concussions and fear of long-term damage.

Outside linebackers Mike Vrabel and Matt Chatham have also practiced at the inside spot.

Seymour was the leading tackler among linemen the last three seasons. He also played a major role in the team allowing the second fewest points last season, 16.25 per game.

“You just feel better when he’s out there,” tight end Christian Fauria said. “He never really misses practices. He’s never out of position. He’s a force to be reckoned with. … I think he deserves everything he gets.”

A knee injury kept Seymour out of the last game of the regular season and two AFC playoff games last season. He returned for the Super Bowl, where he sacked Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb and knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage that was intended for Terrell Owens.

While Owens has been outspoken about being dissatisfied with his contract with the Eagles, Seymour has kept quiet. He made a rare public statement June 12 at team owner Robert Kraft’s house where the Patriots received their championship rings at a dinner in Kraft’s huge backyard.

“I’m not discussing anything like that,” Seymour said then of his contract concerns. “It’s a night of champions and I’m here to celebrate as a champion and, hopefully, we can celebrate again.”

And Kraft praised him.

“He RSVPed he was coming and he’s a terrific guy,” Kraft said. “We’re happy he’s here.”

His return makes the Patriots talented young defensive line even deeper. Wilfork made six starts as a rookie, Ty Warren started all 16 games in his second season and Jarvis Green started all three postseason games in his third season.

“Regardless of who’s on the field, the guys are required to perform at a high level,” linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. “So, regardless if it’s Richard or if it’s a rookie, you’re expected to get the job done.”

Seymour gets it done better than almost all the league’s defensive linemen.

“He’s a captain, a leader, a tremendous physical presence in the middle,” Harrison said. “When you have one of your best friends back, one of your best teammates back, it’s always a good, rewarding moment.”

AP-ES-08-02-05 1918EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.