September 02, 2003
Release of Milloy a Huge Risk for Belichick
BY: Kevin Rousseau
If Bill Belichick wanted to send a message that he is in charge, he sure did it in a big way. It's hard to imagine a worse time to cut the captain and tone setter of a defense that was predicted by many (including myself) to be one of the League's best this year. Cutting an all-pro, veteran safety like Lawyer Milloy five days before the season opener (against a division foe, nevertheless) is the perfect Webster Dictionary definition of a "distraction." Tonight, do you think the Patriots players have their minds entirely on the Buffalo game plan or on the sudden, shocking release of Milloy? If you're honest with yourself, you know the answer.
I'm sure that Belichick understands that he is taking a huge risk in releasing him just before the season starts. The two backup safeties, Antwan Harris and Aric Morris, have taken few, if any, game snaps in the pre-season with the first team defense. Leaving the middle of the field in the hands of Harris or Morris could prove to be fatal when facing a deep pocket passer like Drew Bledsoe. What if the Patriots defense lays an egg on Sunday in Buffalo? Do the wheels fall off the cart very quickly around Foxboro? Does the trust that the players have in Belichick and his coaches to do the right thing begin to disintegrate quickly?
And if the wheels do begin to fall off; does the release of Milloy become the modern day equivalent of Belichick benching popular hometown quarterback Bernie Kosar in Cleveland during his tenure in the early 1990's? After benching Kosar, Belichick lost the support of Browns fans and never recovered while in Cleveland. Could this be the end of the honeymoon that Patriots fans have had with Belichick since the Super Bowl victory? We've trusted every move that he has made since then but this one is a real head-scratcher. I'm sure that in Belichick's mind this made sense from a long-term salary cap sense; but it is still difficult, any way you slice it, to find a silver lining. On Tuesday, the Patriots instantaneously went from the potential to be an elite team this year to having to struggle to reach 10-6. Such is the void that will be left with Milloy out of the lineup.
And now we hear that the Bills are seriously pursuing Milloy. Can you imagine Milloy walking into Orchard Park tomorrow and begin his stay in Buffalo by asking "Is anybody interested in the Patriots game plan on Sunday?" And don't put it past Milloy to do just that. Over the years, there have been few, if any, players that have had the competitive fire and leadership that Milloy brought to the defense. If you don't think that he wouldn't love to stick it to Belichick and Bob Kraft, just wait. If I have an accurate read on Milloy, right now, more than any money he may make this year, his one goal is to stick it to the Patriots and prove that they made a terrible, terrible mistake.
Could this feel any worse? Could your stomach fell any more upset over the prospect of Lawyer Milloy suiting up for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday against the only team he has ever played for? Frankly, the last time I felt this badly about the loss of a Patriot was when Curtis Martin was signed by Bill Parcells in 1998. Football is a vicious, vicious business. It is vicious on the field. It's vicious in the locker room. And especially today, it's vicious in the front office.
If you dust off your Super Bowl DVD, you will notice one player madly embracing Bill Belichick at the end of the game.
That man was Lawyer Milloy.
P.S. When you pick up your Boston Globe on Wednesday, you will suddenly realize that you have really begun to miss the late Will McDonough's writing. After a big story like the Milloy release, Will would have had the inside scoop on why this happened.
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