FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) – When the New England Patriots bypassed individual introductions and took the field as a team in the 2002 Super Bowl, Richard Seymour was with them. When the team won two more NFL titles over the next three years, he was there, too.

But Seymour was not with his teammates when they opened training camp last week, nor at the mandatory minicamp earlier in the summer. He was holding out for a better contract – a ripple of dissension on the NFL’s most harmonious team.

“It’s a business and they understand it’s a business. That’s just the nature of the beast,” Seymour said Wednesday after his first practice since reporting to training camp five days late. “I definitely have the support of my teammates. … I felt a genuine love from my teammates. That’s what it’s all about.”

Seymour was the leading tackler among Patriots linemen last season and a big reason why New England allowed the second-fewest points in the league. He injured his knee and missed the last regular-season game and two in the playoffs before returning in the Super Bowl, when he had a sack and knocked down a pass in New England’s 24-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

He 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. There was no doubt the three-time Pro Bowl selection was underpaid, but the Patriots would have preferred that he make up for it when his contract expires.

Instead, Seymour skipped the team’s June minicamp and didn’t report when training camp began last Thursday. He spent his time watching NFL training camps on cable TV and trying to stay in shape by taking other teams’ conditioning tests.

“I’ve got to say, Cleveland’s conditioning test is tough,” he laughed.

Seymour ended his holdout Tuesday after reportedly receiving a $1.2 million raise and a promise to talk about an extension. If he gets one, he’ll have a chance to accomplish another individual feat.

“It would be my goal one day to retire as a Patriot,” he said. “One day, I would like to be in Canton. I definitely have the talent to be there. It’s up to me how hard I work and continue to mature as a player.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said little about Seymour except that he was happy to have him back.

“We found some common ground,” Seymour said. “I’m in pretty good shape right now. I still have to get in football shape. … I definitely have some rust I have to knock off the old engine and get it going.”

Although Seymour is an All-Pro just entering the prime of his career – and a three-time Super Bowl champ, too – his holdout has attracted far less attention than the contract machinations of Eagles receiver Terrell Owens. Part of that is because no single player is indispensable in the Patriots’ game plan; part of it was Seymour’s low-key style of protest.

“I think I’m a man of integrity and trying to do things the right way,” he said of his lack of public comment during the holdout. “I’m not saying I didn’t want to some times, but that’s just not in me to do.”

AP-ES-08-03-05 1853EDT


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