Having spent his first three pro seasons in the AFC East, Raekwon McMillan figured Bill Belichick would be familiar with his game.
But the former Miami Dolphins linebacker was surprised by just how much the legendary New England Patriots head coach knew about him.
“Coach Belichick told me something interesting that really jumped out at me,” McMillan, who signed with the Patriots last week as part of the team’s free agent spending spree, said Wednesday in his introductory video conference. “He told me that he’s been watching my career. And for a player, you’re talking to a Hall of Fame coach, him talking about me play, out of all these linebackers in the league — I know he watches a lot of ball, but he said he paid attention to me over my career, told me about my injury my rookie year. Of course, he was playing against me in Miami, but he just told me what happened to me last year with the Raiders.
“Everything he talked about, he talked about progress and moving forward and being the person he knows that I can be. And hearing that from a Hall of Fame coach really inspired me to just get out there and do what I’ve got to do.”
That actually was McMillan’s second introduction to Belichick. The two first met ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft. At the time, he said he was “scared” of the Patriots coach — an understandable emotion for a 21-year-old NFL hopeful.
“He actually told me that they wanted me in that draft,” McMillan said Wednesday. “It wasn’t as intimating now because I’ve played against his team. It feels a little different now. But coming out of college, I was way over my head talking to him. Just looking him in the eye and seeing how serious he was, his track record, you know what I’m saying? The Patriots are known for their linebackers, so to be a guy that they want to be a part of their group, I feel like it’s special.”
The Patriots didn’t get a chance to draft McMillan — he went in the second round to Miami (54th overall), and they didn’t pick until the third — but the Ohio State product clearly remained on Belichick’s radar during his three seasons with the Dolphins and one with the Las Vegas Raiders, whom he joined via trade last August.
After hitting free agency for the first time, McMillan traveled to Gillette Stadium for a visit last week and quickly was won over by what he called the “prestige” of the Patriots organization.
“Two or three other teams were pushing real hard to get me on their squad,” McMillan said, “but I felt like this opportunity couldn’t be passed up just because of the prestige, being coached by some of the best coaches in the NFL and the opportunity that I would have here to be a part of something special. I can’t keep saying it enough. Just being in the atmosphere — when I came into the building, I felt the energy and I felt the positivity they had about winning football games. That’s what I’m trying to be about.”
McMillan, who has yet to reach the playoffs in his NFL career, described being greeted by images of past Patriots greats and Super Bowl glory when he arrived at the team facility. He believes his team-first attitude and will to win align with New England’s culture.
“Just getting into the building, you can feel the prestige of being a Patriot, what it means,” McMillan said. “It’s all about team, and that’s all I’m about. I’m all about team and winning. You hear things from the outside looking in about this, that and the third — about this coach, that coach, how things are run (in New England). But until you’re in the building, you won’t have an understanding of what’s going on and the structure that’s built there.
“The people there make it extremely easy to win games — not easy, but it’s a known fact that you’re supposed to win as a Patriot.”
The Patriots have added several pieces to their front seven since free agency officially opened last Wednesday, signing McMillan, outside linebackers Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy, and defensive linemen Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Montavius Adams. They’re also expected to get linebacker and team captain Dont’a Hightower back from his COVID-19 opt-out.