Belichick’s Chopping Block: The Most Memorable Patriots Farewells
|09.08.09 at 3:16 am ET|
Since replacing current USC head coach Pete Carroll prior to the 2000 NFL season, Bill Belichick’s head coaching tenure with the New England Patriots has been nothing short of an absolute success with three Super Bowl rings and recognition as the NFL Coach of the Year in 2003 and 2007. He has coached through injuries (see Tom Brady 2008), scandals (Spygate 2007), and even one losing season (2000), yet still has managed to be regarded by many as the best coach in the NFL.
Throughout all of his professional coaching accomplishments with the Patriots, however, Belichick has had to face numerous occasions that resulted him bidding farewell to both a fan favorite and a homegrown franchise player in order to dump salary or shed experience for youth.
The latest farewell bid came Sunday when the Patriots traded away defensive end Richard Seymour, who was entering the final year of his three-year contract, to the Oakland Raiders for their 2011 first-round draft pick.
The 29-year old Seymour was originally drafted by the Patriots as the sixth overall selection in the 2001 draft. He was part of all three championship titles won under Belichick and his consistency and dominance on the field led him to be named to five straight Pro Bowls. Though he dealt with injuries during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Seymour returned in 2008 to end the year recording his usual productive numbers with 63 tackles and eight sacks.
Belichick, though he did not showcase the same tearful, emotional display he exhibited when speaking in reaction to Tedy Bruschi’s retirement, conveyed his respect and appreciation to Seymour for all he had contributed to the team.
“From nearly the day he arrived in 2001, Richard Seymour established himself as one of our premier players for nearly a decade. His presence has been felt as a force on the field, a respected man off it, and a multi-year champion,” Belichick remarked Sunday (as relayed in the It Is What It Is Blog).
Now with another franchise player departing from the fields of Foxboro as the most recent victim of Patriot Roulette, only Tom Brady, Matt Light, Kevin Faulk, and Stephen Neal remain as the lone members of all three championships in the Belichick era.
So with the sudden flight of Seymour from the cold New England weather to the mild Bay Area, here is a list of several other key players originally drafted by the Patriots who were either dealt away or left via free agency during the Belichick reign:
Drew Bledsoe: Receiving the honor of being the first overall selection in the 1993 draft, Bledsoe enjoyed a successful career with the Patriots, leading them to the 1996 Super Bowl XXXI though New England lost to the Green Bay Packers. After suffering an injury in the second game of the 2001 season, Bledsoe was replaced by second-year quarterback Tom Brady. Though he never recaptured the starting job, Bledsoe filled in for Brady after he left the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and didn’t get in the way of New England’s trip to the Super Bowl.
Despite inking a 10-year contract prior to the 2001 season, Bledsoe was traded to the Buffalo Bills in 2002 for their 2003 first-round draft pick (the Patriots would later trade up with the Chicago Bears taking defensive end Ty Warren 13th overall). Brady turned out to do a pretty decent job for the Patriots. Bledsoe, meanwhile, went on in 2002 to compile one of his best seasons ever, throwing 24 touchdowns for 4,359 yards to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Though Bledsoe never made the playoffs while with the Bills, he was eventually reunited with Bill Parcells in Dallas in 2005 where he led the Cowboys to a 9-7 season, one game short of clinching a playoff berth. In 2006, Bledsoe began the season as the starting quarterback before losing the spot to Tony Romo, who like Brady, took over for him during the season as Bledsoe never regained the starting role.
Deion Branch: An alumni of the University of Louisville, Branch was drafted by the Patriots in 2002 in the second round and was an important contributor to the 2004 and 2005 championship seasons as Brady’s favorite target. Named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX, Branch and the Patriots would fail to agree on a reconstructed contract prior to the 2006 season, causing the Pro Bowler to hold out from camp.
The Patriots, instead of meeting Branch’s demands, traded him to the Seattle Seahawks in September that year where they received a first-round draft pick in return, who would eventually become safety Brandon Meriweather. The Pats would miss the talents of Branch as they would miss reaching the 2007 Super Bowl, with bug-eyed Reche Caldwell making a couple of memorable drops in the AFC Championship Game.
In response, New England signed free agent receiver Wes Welker and traded for the dynamic Randy Moss in the off-season, both of whom would contribute to Brady’s MVP season and the incredible 18-1 run.
Since joining the Seahawks, Branch has been plagued by injuries. He was limited to only 11 games in 2007 and 8 in 2008. He did, however, compete in the Seahawks’ playoff games in 2006 and 2007, but has yet to make it to the Super Bowl.
Matt Cassel: A year ago, Cassel’s departure would have been just another unnoticed move by the Patriots. After having a breakout 2008 season filling in for Tom Brady and leading New England to an 11-5 record, Cassel received a franchise tag — quite a bump up after being drafted in the seventh round in 2005. The Patriots tagged then traded him along with Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs, since Brady was expected back. Though this season concerning Brady’s health will tell if it was, indeed, a good move, Cassel gets the opportunity to continue starting at his position instead of sitting on the bench — whenever he gets healthy after a camp knee injury, that is.
Ty Law: Drafted 23rd overall in 1995 out of the University of Michigan, Law established himself as one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL. A nemesis of Peyton Manning, Law was most known for his three interception game off the Colt quarterback in the 2003 AFC Championship game. After missing the final nine games of the 2004 season, Law was cut prior to 2005 due to the salary cap and the $12 million-plus he was owed.
After being cut, Law signed a one-year deal with the Jets, where he collected a career-high 10 interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. That same year, the Patriots would lose Pro Bowler Rodney Harrison to season-ending surgery as well as Tedy Bruschi, who suffered a stroke and missed half of the season. The Patriots struggled with a depleted defense, yet still managed to win the division.
Law later went on to play for Kansas City for two seasons, including a playoff appearance in 2007, where the Chiefs were ousted in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts. Law ended up returning to the Jets in the middle of last season, appearing in seven games.
Willie McGinest: The fourth overall pick in the 1994 draft, the linebacker McGinest holds the record with 16 career postseason sacks. Owner of three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, McGinest reached the Pro Bowl in 1995 and 2003 while establishing himself as a leader of the New England defense. Due to a $7 million dollar cap he was owed before the 2006 season, the Patriots decided to cut the aging veteran, enabling McGinest to reunite with former Patriot defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel on the Browns. While he is currently a free agent, McGinest has said as recently as July that he would like to end his career in New England.
Lawyer Milloy: A safety selected in the second round of the 1996 draft out of the University of Washington, Milloy quickly established himself as a force on the field, starting the final 10 games of his rookie campaign as well as the three playoff games. Part of the 2001 championship team, Milloy was named to the Pro Bowl four times in 1998, 1999, 2001, and 2002. Yet five days before the start of the 2003 season, Milloy was released after failing to strike a new deal with the team and eventually signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills.
The loss of Milloy shocked Patriot fans everywhere. Not only was Milloy the captain and leader of the defense, but many questioned who would fill the empty defensive spots. Several negative reports emerged concerning the turbulant relationship between Milloy and Belichick. Like Seymour, the sudden and unexpected departure of Milloy raised serious doubts as the season opener foreshadowed Doomesday after Milloy and the Bills ran over the Pats in a 31-0 roast. The struggle did not last long, however, as New England ended the season with a 14-2 record, ultimately winning the Super Bowl thanks in part to newcomers such as Rodney Harrison and Ted Washington, who helped to define a smothering New England defense. Milloy never did reach the playoffs with Buffalo and watched as the Patriots won two Super Bowls in his absence.
In 2006, Milloy became a member of the Atlanta Falcons and consistently played through the team’s struggles and controversy surrounding Michael Vick before finally making the playoffs in 2008.
On Sunday, the 35-year old Milloy inked a new contract with the Seattle Seahawks.
Asante Samuel: A stellar cornerback drafted in 2003 out of the University of Central Florida, Samuel was part of the 2004 and 2005 Super Bowl Championships with New England and received a Pro Bowl selection in 2007 . Placing the franchise tag on him prior to the 2007 season, Samuel turned in another spectacular season despite the team losing to the New York Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl XLII. Following the loss, Samuel became one of the most highly sought-after free agents as he signed a six-year, $56 million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. Though the Patriots and their fans knew they could not retain him with his exorbitant contract demands, injuries to key defensive players like Rodney Harrison in 2008 left many wondering if the right decision was made.
Adam Vinatieri: Who can forget the incredible game-tying kick in the blizzard of the 2001 AFC playoff game against the Raiders or the 48-yard field goal to give the Patriots the 2001 Championship? In 2004, he repeated the trick by kicking the game-winning goal with four seconds remaining in the game to secure the win. Yet, Vinatieri crushed Patriots fans’ hearts when he made the decision to sign with the rival Indianapolis Colts in 2006 after the Patriots opted not to put the franchise tag on him. Vinatieri had signed in 1996 with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent and his kicking contributions earned him the reputation as the greatest clutch kicker in history.
To replace Vinitieri, who became known as Mr. Automatic, New England drafted K Stephen Gostkowski out of Memphis in 2006. Vinitieri helped boot the Colts to the 2006 Super Bowl, in the process defeating New England in the AFC Title game. Of course, Gostkowski was perfect in that game and earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2008. Even so, observers were left to wonder whether Belichick still would have gone for it on 4th-and-13 at the Giants’ 31 in Super Bowl XLII if he’d had Vinitieri rather than Gostkowski as his kicker.
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