- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The most tenured player in Chicago Bears history is calling it quits.
Free agent long snapper Patrick Mannelly announced Friday that he is retiring after a club-record 16 seasons. Mannelly underwent hip surgery in January that forced the veteran to spend the offseason rehabilitating the injury with the hope of returning for a 17th NFL season.
But that never materialized.
"I want to thank the Bears' organization for an incredible 16 years," Mannelly said on a conference call with Chicago reporters. "I wanted to go all-in with my rehab and working out. I said I was going to listen to my body and my body is tapping me on the back and saying, 'that's it, bud, I think you are done.' The body is just done. It's been an awesome 16 years and I'm fortunate to walk away. But the body is done. It's time to move forward to other things in life and I look forward to the next chapter.
"I wanted this to be my decision and didn't want to be influenced by anybody else."
With Mannelly unsigned, the Bears moved forward with a pair of long snappers, Chap Rempel and Brandon Hartson, who split long-snapping duties over the course of the team's offseason program that wrapped up Thursday with a mandatory minicamp for veterans. The Bears did extend a standing contract offer to Mannelly, if he had decided to play and compete for a job in 2014.
"What I hear from Robbie [Gould] is that [the two new snappers] are doing great," Mannelly said. "[Robbie] believes they are NFL ready. That makes me more comfortable in my decision because I don't want to let Robbie down or the team down if they're left with someone that can't get ball back there like it needs to be done."
However, Mannelly leaves big shoes to fill. Selected by the Bears in the sixth-round of the 1998 NFL draft out of Duke, Mannelly appeared in 245 games (43rd most in NFL history) and played on four division championship teams (2001, '05, '06, '10). "The stress level on Sunday morning will be a lot less," Mannelly said.
He was a true model of consistency. Mannelly missed just 11 games throughout his NFL career as the Bears rarely, if ever, experienced a poor snap on special teams.
"Although I have deep respect for Pat's decision, I'm saddened by it because we are going to lose an extremely high-level leader who had an impact on our team," Bears general manager Phil Emery said.
"Not only from his excellent performance on the field over a very long, sustained and historical amount of time, but in all areas of our team. It starts with his leadership in the locker room and him reaching out to other players who need help, to all the work he has done in the community, and the way he carried the Chicago Bears mantle. Any time he was in the public and represented the Chicago Bears, he did it at the highest level possible. We are losing a great person and a great player, one who will always remain a Bear in our hearts."
Mannelly, a team captain on special teams, received the 2013 Ed Block Courage Award in April, an honor voted on by his teammates. Mannelly remained a popular figure in the locker room throughout his entire career.
"Sad to see a legend leave the game," Gould said. "I'm really happy for him. Not many people can do what he did with one organization for as long as he did it."
Team chairman George McCaskey called Mannelly the "epitome of what a Chicago Bears is all about" in a written statement.
"It's difficult to talk about Patrick as a player in the past tense. He played more seasons than any other Bear. He played in more games than any other Bear. And every season, every game, he was a pro's pro. He was a captain, someone his teammates looked up to and sought guidance, direction and inspiration, and he provided it," McCaskey said.
"Our family is very grateful for all he has done. Not just for the way he's played on the field, but the way he has carried himself off the field. He's the epitome of what a Chicago Bear is all about. We'll miss having him in uniform and wish him the best."
20hSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo