On Wednesday, while the reigning Super Bowl champions were preparing for their 2002 season-opening encounter with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Johnson was not with the team. He did not return Thursday, but the team did not say why.
"Ted and I have talked," said Patriots Coach Bill Belichick. "He's made his decision. We're preparing for the game and we're moving forward."
The reasons for Johnson's absence could be related to playing time or money. Linebacking counterpart Tedy Bruschi, who is recovering from a knee injury, could limit Johnson's action, or he might be dissatisfied with having contract restructured six times in four years.
"I'm not really going to get into my feelings on it or any of my conversations on it with Ted," Belichick said. "I'll suffice it to say that I've talked to Ted a couple of times and what we have is between Ted and the football team."
It's not the first time a player has left the Patriots unhappy.
Wide receiver Terry Glenn had a history of doing it, often resulting in team suspensions, before being sent packing to Green Bay.
Belichick said he respects Johnson as a player and person, but notes how consistent he has been in handling such situations.
"Without getting into detail about them, whether they're personal or in some cases things that I'm not really able to publicly discuss, they're consistent," he added.
Johnson, a second-round draft pick in 1995, had a career-high 142 tackles in 1998, but has been plagued in recent years by injuries, including a
pair of torn pectoral muscles. Also, a concussion forced him to miss two games this preseason.