The NFL doesn’t have many trades, and they are not often big, blockbuster trades when they do happen. However, the New England Patriots trading linebacker Jaime Collins to the Cleveland Browns for a third round compensatory pick, while not a blockbuster trade is an interesting one.
First things first, though—let’s get the jokes out of the way.
Contract negotiations at Patriots facility
Jamie Collins: I'm trying to get that Von Miller money ????????
Bill Belichick: pic.twitter.com/KryWPNj0u3
— NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) October 31, 2016
Belichick with every defensive player due for an extension: pic.twitter.com/38lfKn85uR
— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) October 31, 2016
Did Jamie Collins kick Belichick's dog or somethinghttps://t.co/priyjN3LIb
— Dave Rappoccio (@DrawPlayDave) October 31, 2016
So did Jamie Collins streak around the Foxboro police station or ding-dong-ditch Belichick's house?
— Corey Griffin (@CoreyGriffinNBC) October 31, 2016
Now, the reality.
Jaime Collins was in the last year of his deal and contract talks had gone nowhere for some time. The Patriots don’t —with a capital D—pay defensive players. They really don’t pay anyone outside of Tom Brady, and given how often he redoes his contract, they really don’t pay him either.
So moving on from Collins was inevitable from a financial standpoint. The Browns, who have plenty of cap space, clearly think they can and will re-sign Collins to a long term deal. There’s a chance Collins walks—maybe winning means more than the money he can make—and there’s the chance the team franchise tags him (about $15 million next year). Either way, a third-round compensatory pick—probably the one they will get for the departed Alex Mack—is a reasonable choice for even the 50-50 chance of signing him long term.
Collins had been playing relatively well this year, and he’s a sharp linebacker in coverage. The Browns linebackers are brutal in that capacity so this is an immediate upgrade to that aspect of the defense and if they can lock him down permanently, Collins is someone they can build around.
Seems like a win-win for the Browns with little downside.
The odd part of this is the New England aspect. Why would a Super Bowl contender weaken their defense? So he’s likely to walk next year—who cares? If you can wave to him with a Super Bowl ring on your finger, then what does it matter? Even if they fall short, having him on the squad helps their cause.
They must feel confident in Barkevious Mingo (ironically, a former Cleveland pick) and that they can lock down Dont’a Hightower long term. Hightower has played well in coverage this year, so that should help.
On the other hand, the Patriots would have received a compensatory pick when Collins left and the only difference now is they get the pick this year, not next year. The timing—not the actual trade—is the oddest thing about this trade.
Which means that there is something going on we are not yet privy to. There is some angle to this whole thing which forced New England’s hand. It could be as simple as Collins was grousing. It could be he wasn’t doing what head coach Bill Belichick wanted him to, as Fox Sports Michael Lombardi has said.
Collins on the second play of the game does whatever he wants and Bills gain 28 yards. Been happening all year. It was not going to continue
— Michael Lombardi (@mlombardiNFL) October 31, 2016
Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit agreed Collins wasn’t as effective as he had been in the past.
I think Collins is an excellent player, but Patriots allowed more yards in run and pass game with him on the field this year. pic.twitter.com/97x4wFbhdw
— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) October 31, 2016
Lombardi seems to be in the minority among the media and players, who were also taken by surprise.
What we do know is that the Patriots have overcome things like this before and we can assume Belichick already has a plan in place to cover the position. Still, this is a move with very little obvious upside and an enormous downside for a team with championship aspirations.
It’s hard to bet against the Patriots, a team which routinely ditches aging players right before they fall apart, but the timing of this move is odd, and the benefits seem few.