Neal played through broken ribs

Patriots starting guard Stephen Neal said that he was considering retirement after the team's playoff loss to the Ravens, but ESPN insider Adam Schefter reports tonight that Neal plans to play in 2010.

"We expect there to be a vibrant free-agent market for his services," agent Neil Cornrich told Schefter.

Schefter also revealed that Neal played through broken ribs in 2009.

The Patriots figure to be part of the bidding for Neal, but they also have three younger players who could be in the mix to take over at right guard -- Dan Connolly, Rich Ohrnberger and Ryan Wendell. When Neal missed time with injury in 2009, Connolly filled in. It's hard to imagine the Patriots would get into a high-stakes bidding war to retain Neal.

Neal's athleticism at guard has been noticeable on screen plays and on running plays in which the guard pulls. One of his assets is balance, which comes from his background as a championship wrestler in college.