I'm spending 50 days ranking the top 50 players of the Bill Belichick Era, from No. 50 down to No. 1. (Click here for a criteria on how I made my selections.)
Today we reach . . . .
NUMBER 8: RICHARD SEYMOUR
Years With Patriots: 2001-2008
Playoff Games: 15
Honors: Super Bowl Champion (2001, 2003, 2004), Pro Football Hall of Fame All-2000s First Team, All-Pro (2003, 2004, 2005), Pro Bowler (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006)
After being named first-team All-Pro after the 2002 season, Richard Seymour explained how much more important that was to him than being a Pro Bowler: “It means you are the best at your position in the whole league. I want there to be no question about that. That’s my goal. Every year, just write me in as one of the top two.”
For a period, that was the case. Seymour was -- like the man behind him on this list, Rob Gronkowski -- a force of nature. At 6-foot-6 and 306 pounds, you had to see Seymour in the locker room in a state of undress to understand how absurdly powerful he was. No flab, no softness. All muscle. Combine that size and strength with speed and quickness, an understanding of what offenses were trying to do to him and a switch that could flip from docile to vicious and you have a player who could take over games.
And he did. Playing defensive end in the 3-4, tackle or end in the 4-3, Seymour couldn’t be blocked one-on-one. (Click that link above to see what happened when the Rams tried it one time too many in Super Bowl 36.) Or consider what happened when the Raiders had a 13-10 lead in the Snow Bowl with 2:24 remaining and tried to run Zack Crockett on third-and-1. Didn’t work. Seymour led the charge to stop Crockett, the Raiders punted. Tuck rule. Game-tying field goal. Overtime. Game-winning field goal. Etc., etc.
Seymour wasn’t just a beast on regular downs; he also made things happen in the kicking game. He had four blocked kicks in his Patriots tenure, including a smothering of a would-be game-winner in Miami in 2003. After that block, the Patriots struck with an overtime touchdown pass to Troy Brown. It snapped a Patriots' losing streak to Miami and kept alive an overall winning streak that eventually set an NFL record.
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in Seymour’s first four seasons. He was -- along with Ty Law -- their most talented player. He achieved the goal of being the best at his position.
Over the next phase of Seymour’s Patriots tenure, he remained one of the best in the NFL but his relationship with Bill Belichick became more prickly. Seymour was a prideful guy. He didn’t like the micromanaging. He didn’t like the muzzling. He didn’t like the fact that injuries weren’t discussed because the player with slipping production never got a chance to explain what he was dealing with. He didn’t like the way players got lowballed at contract time or cast aside. Animosity ran high at times. But Seymour remained among the best at his position and a player whose presence made it easier on those around him.
When he was traded before the 2009 season, the timing was stunning but the move was not. The day he was dealt to Oakland, Belichick said of Seymour, "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 multiyear champion.” It may have been a complicated tenure for Seymour overall, but on the field, he was one of the very best