Many people call him a cheater, and others think he is just an arrogant jerk. Regardless of your opinion, there is simply no denying that Bill Belichick is on track to go down as the best coach in the history of the NFL, especially after the Super Bowl 51 comeback. With 13 division titles, six AFC titles, and five Super Bowl titles, what he does as the head coach and General Manager of the New England Patriots is truly remarkable. Equally impressive is the job he does running the franchise’s personnel department.
For starters, he is responsible for drafting Tom Brady, who is arguably the greatest player in NFL history. Beyond that, we could list countless additional draft picks, trades, and free-agent signings that make him a Hall of Fame-caliber front office executive. But what truly sets Belichick apart from his peers is his ability to make difficult decisions. He will part ways with Pro Bowl- and All-Pro-caliber players to do what’s best for the team.
The reality in New England is that anybody not named Brady is expendable if they don’t fit in with the “Patriot Way.” Here are 20 big-name players who Belichick has sent packing during his reign in New England.
1. Drew Bledsoe, quarterback
We’ll forever remember Drew Bledsoe for being the quarterback replaced by Brady. The Patriots used the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft on the former Washington State signal caller. Bledsoe quickly emerged as a legitimate franchise quarterback before celebrating his 25th birthday. As history would have it, though, his injury during Week 2 of the 2001 season opened the door for Brady; Bledsoe would never start another game for New England. Brady led the Pats to the Super Bowl title later that year. That offseason, Belichick traded Bledsoe to the Buffalo Bills.
2. Jamie Collins, linebacker
Jamie Collins was an All-Pro-caliber player who learned that Belichick won’t play any games or overpay when it comes to negotiating contract extensions. In one of the more shocking trade deadline deals in NFL history, the Patriots sent the 27-year-old linebacker — arguably their best defensive player of the year — to the Cleveland Browns for a conditional third-round draft pick.
Reports surfaced that Collins had already turned down a contract offer that would have paid him $11 million per season in hopes of landing “Von Miller money.” Knowing this, and knowing Belichick’s track record, it should come as no surprise that he sent Collins packing in the middle of a season where his team was favored to win another Super Bowl title. Savage.
3. Randy Moss, wide receiver
Randy Moss’s departure from New England made it clear that Belichick has a zero-tolerance policy for players who put themselves before the team. After catching 47 touchdowns in his first three seasons with the team, Moss took to the media. He made it clear he was irked that the Patriots didn’t offer him a lucrative contract extension heading into the 2010 season. They traded him to the Minnesota Vikings four weeks later.
4. Lawyer Milloy, safety
Like so many others, Lawyer Milloy’s tenure with the Patriots came to an end for financial reasons. After failing to reach an agreement on a reworked deal, Belichick cut the four-time Pro Bowler just days before New England’s 2003 season opener. During his time with New England, Milloy won a Super Bowl ring and made four Pro Bowl rosters and two All-Pro teams. He was later named to the franchise’s 1990s and 2000s All-Decade teams.
5. Richard Seymour, defensive end
Under Belichick, Richard Seymour learned there is little loyalty in the National Football League. After helping the team to three Super Bowl titles — earning Pro Bowl honors five times and All-Pro honors four times along the way — the Patriots sent Seymour to the Oakland Raiders in the final year of his contract. They chose to do this rather than attempt to work out a long-term extension to keep him in New England.
6. Adam Vinatieri, kicker
Adam Vinatieri is arguably the greatest kicker in NFL history. His 530 career field goals and 2,378 career points are the third most in league history respectively. He was also an integral member of four Super Bowl championship teams. During his time with the Patriots, the future Hall of Famer was one of the most clutch performers the NFL has ever seen. Vinatieri kicked a total of 18 game-winning field goals (with less than one minute remaining) while in New England. However, he will remain a legend for these three fabled postseason kicks:
- 45-yarder to send the “Snow Bowl” against the Oakland Raiders into overtime (New England eventually won on another Vinatieri field goal).
- 48-yard walk-off game-winner against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
- 41-yarder with nine seconds remaining against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII to give the Pats a 32-29 lead.
With everything he accomplished, it’s hard to believe Belichick let Vinatieri walk during free agency in 2006.
7. Ty Law, cornerback
In addition to being one of the best players in Patriots history, Ty Law is also among the most notable players the team has cut throughout the years. In his 10 seasons with New England, Law was named to five Pro Bowl and two All-Pro teams; he led the league in interceptions twice; and he was a key member of three Super Bowl-winning teams. Law played for the New York Jets (twice), Kansas City Chiefs, and Denver Broncos before retiring in 2010. He is now a member of the Patriots Hall of Fame. The team named him to the franchise’s 50th Anniversary, 1990s, and 2000s All-Decade teams.
8. Asante Samuel, cornerback
Conspiracy theorists will tell you that Belichick declined to re-sign Asante Samuel after he dropped what would have been a game-clinching interception in Super Bowl XLII. If you ask us, it was just another case of the greatest coach in NFL history drawing a line in the sand and refusing to overpay (in his eyes) for a player he was extremely familiar with.
9. Willie McGinest, outside linebacker
After 12 seasons, four AFC championships, three Super Bowl titles, and two trips to the Pro Bowl, the Patriots cut Willie McGinest following the 2005 season. The NFL record holder for the most career postseason sacks played three more seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Eventually, he joined the Patriots’ 1990s and 2000s All-Decade teams and earned induction into the franchise’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
10. Wes Welker, wide receiver
At the time it happened, Belichick’s decision to let Wes Welker leave during free agency was a total head-scratcher. During his six seasons with the Patriots, the 5-foot-9, 190-pounder was unquestionably one of the premier wide receivers in the game. (He had five seasons with 111 or more receptions and posted totals of 672 receptions for 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns in 93 games.) Welker was one of Brady’s favorite targets and one of the toughest, most durable, players in the league.
When it came time to renegotiate his contract in 2013, Belichick and Welker didn’t see eye to eye on the three-time All-Pro’s value. As a result, Welker felt disrespected and took a modest offer (two years, $12 million) from one of the Patriots’ biggest rivals, the Denver Broncos.
11. Mike Vrabel, linebacker
Mike Vrabel did a little bit of everything during his eight years with the Patriots. He was the consummate team player, contributing at multiple positions on both sides of the ball. He was also a key contributor to three Super Bowl championship teams. Shortly after the 2008 season, Belichick sent him and quarterback Matt Cassell to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a second-round draft pick.
12. Logan Mankins, offensive guard
From 2005–13, Logan Mankins enjoyed a Hall of Fame-caliber run in New England before Belichick sent him packing in 2014. He refused to do the team a favor and take a pay cut. So the Patriots shipped Mankins — who retired this past offseason — to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers days before the 2014 season was set to begin.
13. Deion Branch, wide receiver
Deion Branch was a really good (not great) wide receiver for the Patriots for the first four years of his NFL career. He is most widely known for his outstanding play in the postseason from 2003–05. He capped it off by winning Super Bowl XXXIX honors after hauling in a then-record 11 passes for 133 yards.
Branch set his sights on a new contract following the 2005 season. As usual, Belichick refused to overpay for a player — even if he was a past Super Bowl hero. New England traded the disgruntled wide receiver to the Seattle Seahawks shortly into the 2006 season. In return, they got a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Branch proved to be nothing more than average for the Seahawks; they eventually traded him back to the Pats for a fourth-round pick during the 2010 season.
14. Vince Wilfork, defensive tackle
At one point, it looked as though Vince Wilfork was one of the rare players fortunate enough to spend his entire career playing for the Patriots. Instead, Belichick declined to pick up the four-time All-Pro’s contract option during the 2015 offseason, ending Wilfork’s 11-year run in New England. The former Miami Hurricane landed on his feet with the Houston Texans. However, he became an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2016 season.
15. Aaron Hernandez, tight end
To be fair, nearly every coach/General Manager in the league would have eventually released Aaron Hernandez upon learning about the crimes the former Florida Gator was accused (and later found guilty) of. To his credit, Belichick acted swiftly; he released (while taking a salary cap hit) the former play-making tight end less than two hours after he was infamously hauled out of his Massachusetts house in handcuffs.
16. Chandler Jones, outside linebacker
This one was classic Belichick. Chandler Jones had his best season in 2015, making his first Pro Bowl after 12.5 sacks. The 2016 season was scheduled to be the final year on his rookie contract. As one of the fastest rising young pass rushers in the league, it was no secret that Jones set his sights on landing a massive contract extension. Instead of locking up the former Syracuse standout for the long-term and potentially overpaying for his services, Belichick traded him to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick.
17. Danny Woodhead, running back
Nobody really knew what to expect when the Patriots signed Danny Woodhead prior to their Week 2 game against the New York Jets (who had just released the former Chadron State star four days prior) in 2010. After an injury to Kevin Faulk, Woodhead got his first real taste of NFL action just over a week after being signed by New England. And all he did was emerge as one of the best all-purpose backs in the league.
After three highly productive years in New England, Woodhead tested free agency during the 2013 offseason. Belichick made a modest contract offer to the 5-foot-9, 200-pounder. But it wasn’t even competitive with the offer Woodhead eventually signed with the San Diego Chargers.
18. Chad Johnson, wide receiver
Chad Johnson had high hopes for the four-time All-Pro after New England acquired him in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011. As it turned out, Johnson’s lone season with the Pats was by far the least productive of his NFL career. Belichick ultimately released the possible Hall of Famer almost exactly a year after trading for him.
19. Daniel Graham, tight end
After the team selected Daniel Graham with the 21st overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, he paid the Patriots back with five solid seasons. As a key contributor on two of their Super Bowl championship teams, Graham was eventually named to the franchise’s All-2000s Teams.
Despite his success in New England, Graham left the Patriots when he became a free agent in 2007. He signed with his hometown team, the Denver Broncos. In all fairness to Belichick, though, Graham received a hefty contract ($30 million over five years with $14 million guaranteed) from the Broncos, and appreciated the opportunity to continue his NFL career in the city he grew up in.
20. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, running back
“The Law Firm” signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2008. In his third season with the team, BenJarvus Green-Ellis proved to be one of the better running backs in the league, rushing for 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns. He followed that up with 667 yards and 11 touchdowns the following year. When he became a free agent in 2012, Belichick didn’t make much of an attempt to sign Green-Ellis even though he was clearly an excellent fit in their offensive system.