A conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 exceeded Jamie Collins’ value to the New England Patriots for the rest of this season.
That is, according to the NFL transaction wire, what’s left to pick up from the trade that sent the 27-year-old linebacker to the Cleveland Browns on Monday.
“Well, in the end, we did what we felt was best for the football team,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of the deal Monday afternoon on WEEI’s Dale & Holley with Thornton. “There are a lot of things to take into consideration. I’m sure we could bring up a lot of points to talk about. But in the end, that’s really the bottom line.”
Belichick, who shared that he did not speak personally with the Browns, was then asked about sign-ability when it came to Collins.
“I think you could bring up a lot of things,” he said, “and they all probably play into the conversation at some point.”
Re-signing Collins would have been closer to idealistic than realistic when accounting for a list of impending free agents that includes fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower, cornerbacks Malcolm Butler (restricted) and Logan Ryan, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, as well as tight end Martellus Bennett. The Patriots had to pick their spots.
Though with the trade of edge-rusher Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals last March, it seemed that Collins would be a top priority for Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio and the rest of the organization heading into this March.
Things can change. Asking prices can, too. Regardless of how much Collins were to draw on the open market, however, New England would have netted draft compensation in 2018.
The Patriots could potentially receive a 2017 third-rounder for Collins should the Browns garner one in return for current Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack, per the calculations of OverTheCap.com’s Nick Korte. Although, even in that best-case scenario, it’s hard to understand why a 7-1 team would be making a sell instead of a buy on the eve of the NFL trade deadline.
So, the question is, why now? Why at the point of diminishing return?
Michael Lombardi, who spent two seasons serving as a Patriots assistant to the coaching staff and now works as an analyst for Fox Sports, provided his inside-the-building glance on The Bill Simmons Podcast.
“The one thing you have to do – Donnie Walsh said this to me in 1990s or the late ‘80s – ‘You’ve got to know what you’re trading before you make a trade,’” Lombardi told Simmons. “And that’s the one caveat that Belichick knows. He knows what he’s trading. He’s trading a guy who is very talented, but very moody, very inconsistent with his effort, and so for him to pay that player that type of money sends a message to the locker room that, ‘Look, I tolerate this and I reward this.’ He’s never doing that. And with Belichick, every message he sends in terms of a contract is a message to the locker room.”
Collins was not the first-time captain that Hightower is. He was not as much of an unsung constant as the Alabama product drafted one year before him. He was perhaps, in a trending term, more of a “freelancer” than the Patriots wanted him to be.
Traveling down that avenue, one could point to the wheel route he conceded to former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch in Super Bowl XLIX. One could point to the two touchdowns the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder allowed against then-Denver Broncos tight end Owen Daniels in the AFC Championship Game. Or, one could point to the inside track he took against the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, which allowed running back Mike Gillislee to break contain on a 28-yard gain in the first quarter.
Even so, New England’s defense is not a better one without him.
“Jamie is a huge piece of our defense, arguably our best defensive player,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty told CSNNE’s Tom E. Curran, adding, “When you get a guy like Jamie who was here for four years on the team, a very productive player, to lose him is a bit shocking I think to everybody on the team.”
Collins led the unit with 89 tackles and five forced fumbles last season while also ranking fourth with 5.5 sacks and posting a 51-yard interception return to go with a blocked kick. The 2013 second-round pick, who earned Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors along the way, did so despite missing four games.
Production remained for Collins through the early part of this campaign. Missing one game due to a hip injury, he started six of his seven appearances to tally 43 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
With his 14-tackle, one-pick showcase against the Houston Texans shining brightest, the home-run glimpses were still there for Collins through the early months. So was the versatility and unparalleled athleticism to blitz the A-gaps, drop into coverage, and chase running backs into the flat.
But the Patriots determined that the risk of losing Collins now was better than the reward of keeping him around.
Whether that had more to do with his contract, his play, or the defense’s collective performance thus far into 2016 remains unclear. Maybe some aspects were more influential than others.
It’s conceivable to think the unexpected rise of sixth-round pick Elandon Roberts, who has notched 19 tackles over 122 snaps in the last four games, lessened Collins’ short-term worth to the second level. The acquisitions of ex-Brown Barkevious Mingo and ex-Detroit Lion Kyle Van Noy certainly also factored in from a depth perspective.
Yet, on the surface, you’d think what Collins brought to the table for the rest of 2016 outweighed what the Patriots ultimately received in return for him.
With November underway, it’s fair to wonder why the former didn’t outweigh the latter.
Time will tell whether it should have.