New England Patriots: 15 best free agent acquisitions of all-time

Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) /
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Larry Izzo, New England Patriots
Larry Izzo, New England Patriots. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

player. 47. . LB/ST. (2001-08). Larry Izzo. 6

  • 3x Super Bowl champion (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX)
  • 3x Pro Bowl (2000, 2002, 2004)
  • First-Team All-Pro (2004)
  • Two career forced fumbles

Matthew Slater owes a lot to Larry Izzo.

As a matter of fact, most special teams players owe a lot to Larry Izzo. That’s because prior to Izzo’s time with the Patriots, special teams weren’t nearly as valued in the NFL as they are today. Although, some would argue they still aren’t valued nearly as much as they should be.

The prevailing wisdom in the pre-Bill Belichick coaching world was that special teams were more of an inconvenient afterthought than a legitimate third phase of football. Some coaches assigned special teams duties as punishment for poor play or disciplinary infractions; others rotated through their roster positions, balancing the assignments out among a pool of players over the course of a full season.

It was Belichick who rocked the boat when he started saving roster spots with special teams specifically in mind – and nothing else. If a player was particularly good at downing punts, blocking field goal kicks, or executing fake/trick plays, that player was given serious game day roster consideration, even if he wasn’t good enough to be a normal contributor on offense or defense.

Larry Izzo was one of the first such players to carve out a role for himself as a “special teams ace” in New England – if he wasn’t the first altogether in the history of the game. After going undrafted in 1996, the Miami Dolphins picked him up and helped propel him to a Pro Bowl season as a special teamer in 2000.

When free agency came around in 2001, neither Izzo nor Belichick hesitated in agreeing on a deal. Izzo went on to win three Super Bowl championships with the Patriots, and was named to two more Pro Bowls along the way.

His place on this list is assured because of the way he pioneered the concept of a core, standout special teams player.