Veteran guard Neal not retiring

Though some suspected longtime New England Patriots starting guard Stephen Neal was retiring, he is not.

"He's going to be playing," Neal's agent, Neil Cornrich, said in brief comments Wednesday afternoon. "We expect there to be a vibrant free-agent market for his services."

In an offseason in which few starting-caliber offensive linemen will be available, Neal figures to be one of the premium free agents. The Patriots still are interested in retaining his services, but not before Neal at least tests the free-agent market first.

Since joining the Patriots in 2001, Neal has played in 78 games, starting 73 of them. Neal is 33 years old, which is old for a running back, but not a guard. He is one of football's toughest players, having been a national champion amateur wrestler that once defeated WWE champion, and UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.

But one of Neal's most impressive feats came last season, when he played with broken ribs that few knew about. It was the latest testament to his toughness and one of the reasons some thought he would retire this offseason. Some thought, at Neal's age, he was finished played.

But Cornrich confirmed Neal is not done, and he intends not only to play next season but to do it at a high level.

Adam Schefter is an NFL reporter for ESPN Insider.