Just before the start of the 2003 season, Bill Belichick made one of the boldest decisions of his coaching career. He cut beloved team captain Lawyer Milloy.
Milloy, a standout safety, was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances. He was a major contributor to the Patriots’ Super Bowl-winning team in 2001. Yet one week before the 2003 campaign, Belichick came to Milloy with a hardline stance.
“I think I went to my fourth Pro Bowl in five years and then I was given an ultimatum: either take a pay cut or leave it,” Milloy told WEEI today.
Milloy ultimately refused the pay cut and was released. He wound up signing with the Buffalo Bills–and helping them defeat the Patriots 31-0 in Week 1 that year. Milloy would go on to play through the 2020 season.
Looking back, he told WEEI that the way Belichick went about his “ultimatum” left him “disgusted.”
“I had good representation with Carl Poston and went the whole offseason — the last time I talked to Bill was in June right before the veteran (time) when you can go out and seek another team and we had a discussion. He said basically, ‘the worst-case scenario is you play out this year and we have to re-visit it after the season.’
“So me and my representation were in agreement with that and the Friday after the last preseason game he pulled me into the office and gives me the same ultimatum: I have until Monday to think about it. Guys get released or have these situations come up all the time, it was just the way he handled it, trying to wait until the Monday before the first game, which really disgusted me.”
Milloy does go on to say that while it took a while for him to forgive Belichick and the Patriots, he and the organization have no cleared the air.
Belichick has said the decision to dismiss the Pro Bowl safety was the hardest one he’s ever had to make. It was risky, considering how much goodwill Milloy had cultivated in the locker room.
Ultimately, it did not tear the team apart, however. New England went 14-2 in 2003 and won the franchise’s second Super Bowl before winning No. 3 the following year.