It happens. I know that.
It's happened with Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law and Willie McGinest and Ted Johnson. It'll happen with Tom Brady and Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison too, no matter how much I hate the thought. Nothing lasts forever, especially when we're talking about the careers of professional athletes.
But damn if it doesn't still catch you off guard sometimes.
That's definitely the case with the reported trade of Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs.
The usual arguments. He's 33. He and the rest of the Patriots defense this year looked old and slow. Radical changes have to be made to that defense. Brent also theorized this may be the beginnings of a three-way trade with Tampa Bay and Kansas City that may also involve Cassel, and was happy with the idea of getting some prospects, a new veteran defensive back, and / or extending Vince Wilfork's contract in return. None of those are ideas I can argue with.
But that makes Vrabel no less a fixture of the Patriots in the Belichick era, a poster child for the way Belichick and Pioli picked players off the scrap heaps of other teams and fit them into their system (in this case, the scrap heap was the Pittsburgh Steelers'). As a Boston Magazine profile on Vrabel a few years ago pointed out, Vrabel even looked, in profile, like the flying Elvis Patriots logo.
He was inseparable from another fan favorite, Tedy Bruschi, ribbing each other sometimes good-naturedly, sometimes with more of an edge, like brothers. He felt inseparable from the rest of the team, too.
Probably our favorite memories of Vrabel in New England will be his many touchdown catches, most memorable of all the one in the Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers. I still don't know why teams would let Vrabel go every time he reported eligible, because every time, it seemed like Brady would go to him in the back of the end zone.
But that time, the coverage was good and the pass was high, and Vrabel extended, reeling the ball in with his fingertips while the tips of his toes touched the ground. "Eyes like dinner plates" was how Brady described it on one of the late-night talk shows following the championship.
Vrabel was the poster child for the versatility players developed under the Belichick system. A linebacker caught touchdown passes with grace, and meanwhile a wide receiver filled in at corner.
So, of course, in Bill we trust and all that. Vrabel arguably might still be on that scrap heap without him.
But no matter what we know to the contrary, some guys just feel permanent. Sometimes it can still come as a shock when they're gone, too.