Bill Belichick roster management has often included the word “value.” His economical approach to salary cap management has been both praised, criticized and even mischaracterized. Many players have thrived playing for New England while showcasing their talents to potential future employers and then benefitting from a significant free agent cash windfall. Many players, though, have gone on to play elsewhere only to return to the Patriots.
Here is the family reunion list:
Tully Banta-Cain was drafted by the Patriots in 2003. He provided depth and quality special teams play in the early dynasty years. He left for San Francisco in 2007 for two seasons, then returned to the Patriots for his final two seasons and even posted a 10-sack season for New England in 2009.
Martellus Bennett joined the Patriots in 2016 and helped lead them to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. In what looked like a one-and-done situation, Bennett joined the Packers the following season where he played 7 games, but eventually returned to end the season and his career in New England, albeit briefly.
After a full 2013 season in New England, LeGarrette Blount’s 772 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns were enough to pique the interest of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Blount played 11 games in Black and Gold before before being released, returning to the Patriots and helping lead them to a Super Bowl XLIX championship. He hung around long enough to win a second championship with the team in 2016.
Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch departed from New England following the 2005 season. Branch played the next four seasons as a Seahawk. Four games into the 2010 season, Branch made his return to New England, where he played another two seasons before retiring a Patriot.
Linebacker Chad Brown was brought into New England in 2005. After appearing in 15 games, Brown signed with the Steelers the following offseason. In 2007, Brown made a brief return to the Patriots, appearing in 2 games during the year. So he had reunions with both Pittsburgh and New England.
Trent Brown started at left tackle and played a huge role in the Patriots Super Bowl LIII championship season. He took advantage in free agency and struck a hefty contract with the Raiders. After two seasons in silver and black, he is back in New England for the 2021 season.
Andre Carter was a savvy veteran presence that was brought in to provide some leadership and depth on the defensive line. Carter first joined the Patriots in 2011, playing a full season and tallying 10 sacks. The Raiders scooped him up the following season. Carter then made his return to the Patriots in 2013, playing his last season with the Patriots.
One of the more notable, but possibly forgotten, Patriots to play a season elsewhere is Patrick Chung. Chung has been a staple in the Patriots secondary since he was drafted in 2009 – every season except 2013 that is. Chung spent the 2013 season in Philadelphia playing for the Eagles. After one season he returned home to the Patriots and picked up where he left off playing beside Devin McCourty.
Mike Cloud joined the Patriots in 2003, playing in handful of games for the eventual Super Bowl champions. Following that season, Cloud joined the New York Giants for the 2004 season but then returned to the Patriots backfield for six games in 2005.
Jamie Collins was a second round draft pick in 2013 and had an impressive start to his career in New England. Collins spent his first three and half seasons with the Patriots before being traded to Cleveland close to midway through the 2016 season. Collins remained with the Browns through 2018, and eventually returned to Foxborough in 2019.
Doug Flutie spent a little more than two seasons in New England from 1987-89. While Bill Belichick, wasn’t Flutie’s coach during that first sting. he did bring the local legend back in 2005. Flutie successfully successfully converted a drop-kick extra point during his final NFL season with the Pats.
Defensive end Jonathan Freeny left Miami and joined the Patriots for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. After Super Bowl LI, Freeny earned his way onto the Ravens roster for three games in 2017, then came back to New England for just one game before finishing the season in New Orleans.
Brian Hoyer is the only player in the Bill Belichick era to have three different stints with the Patriots. Hoyer first joined as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and backed up Tom Brady for three seasons. After his departure in 2012, Hoyer managed some starting roles in Cleveland and Houston. After starting the 2017 season with the 49ers, Hoyer came back to the Patriots to finish the season. Hoyer remained in New England for the 2018 season and left the following year for Indianapolis. Hoyer’s third stint with the Patriots came in 2020. In his sixth season with the Patriots, Hoyer made his first start for the club.
Ted Karras was drafted by the Patriots in the 6th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. After developing as a depth lineman for his first three years, Karras started at center for the injured David Andrews in 2019. After he established himself as a starting center, former Patriots coach Brian Flores brought Karras down to Miami with him for the 2020 season. Karras has signed back with the Patriots for 2021, making him yet another familiar face to have multiple stints with the Patriots.
Mary Moore joined the Patriots as Mr. Irrelevant in 1994. The last pick in the NFL draft played his first six seasons with the Patriots. Moore missed Belichick the first time around, departing for Cleveland in 2000. However, Belichick brought the special teamer back for a handful of games in 2001. Moore finished his Patriots career following the Super Bowl XXXVI victory.
Otis Smith was also a pre-Belichick Patriot … sort of. He joined the organization midway through the 1996 season when Belichick was coaching the Patriots secondary under Bill Parcells. After his 11 games in New England that season, Smith returned to his former team, the Jets, again under Parcells and Belichick. When the latter took over in New England in 2000, he brought Smith back with him. He went on to play three more seasons for New England, including as a starter for the the 2001 championship team.
Donté Stallworth established himself as a solid NFL receiver early in his career with the Saints. Stallworth first joined the Patriots for their explosive 2007 campaign, tallying 46 receptions that season. Stallworth joined three different teams over the next four seasons before returning to New England for one game in 2012, his final year in the league.
Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy was acquired during the 2016 season in a trade with the Detroit Lions. He emerged as an important contributor with two starts as part of the Super Bowl LI championship team. He started 12 games at linebacker for the 2017 AFC Champion Patriots and all 16 games for the 2018 Super Bowl champions. After another strong season in 2019, he signed a four-year contract with Miami in the spring of 2020. The Dolphins released him after one season and he is looking forward to his Patriots reunion in 2021
Ben Watson was the Patriots first round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft. He put together a solid six seasons to start his career in New England. He left the Patriots in 2010 and spent time in Cleveland, New Orleans, and Baltimore. Watson made his return to the Patriots in 2019 to ceremoniously wrap up his lengthy career exactly where it started.
Some family reunions are brief, saying a brief hello before heading off into the sunset. Belichick-era returnees’ success has varied> A few players returned but never made back onto the field for regular season action. These former Patriots agreed to return to the Patriots but did not appear in a game during that particular season.
Undrafted rookie free agent Dane Fletcher joined the Patriots in 2010, serving predominantly as a special teams player. Fletcher spent his first four seasons in New England before joining the Buccaneers in 2014. Fletcher returned to the Patriots in 2015 but was later placed on the physically unable to perform list until he was eventually cut from the squad.
Tebucky Jones’ Patriots career began before Belichick took over and he was part of the secondary that played a huge role in delivering the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. He was traded to the Saints in 2003 for whom he played two seasons and then one with the Dolphins. The Patriots signed Jones as a free agent in the summer of 2006, however, he did not make the opening day roster.
Steve Maneri began his career with the Patriots in 2011 before being cut just before the season. He was quickly picked up by the Chiefs, where he spent the next two seasons. After playing one season in Chicago, Maneri returned to Foxboro in 2014, where he finished the season and his career.
Defensive end Chris Sullivan began his Patriots career in 1996 when Belichick was an assistant on Parcells’ staff. He played four seasons before signing with Pittsburgh in 2000. Belichick re-acquired Sullivan late in the 2001 season, and the North Attleborough, Mass., native received a Super Bowl ring with his hometown team. Sullivan released the following offseason.