ESPN’s Bill Barnwell came up with a list of 11 mid-season trades ideas and reasons why they make sense and the New England Patriots are included with a familiar face.
Barnwell proposes that the Patriots should acquire linebacker Jamie Collins from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a 2019 seventh-round draft pick.
“Collins’ four-year, $50 million pact with the Browns hasn’t worked out,” Barnwell writes. “He missed 11 games in 2017 with a concussion and a torn MCL, and his role in the defense has been marginalized with Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey emerging as every-down linebackers. When Schobert and Kirksey are healthy, Collins is the guy usually coming off the field when the Browns go into their sub packages...
“Collins’ time in New England didn’t end well, but the Patriots need help in their front seven after losing Ja’Whaun Bentley to a torn biceps. A healthy, motivated Collins would be an upgrade on the likes of Kyle Van Noy and free up Dont’a Hightower to take the occasional snap as an edge rusher, a tactic the Patriots used to try to create pressure before Hightower got injured last season. The Patriots wouldn’t owe Collins any guaranteed money after the season and would surely ask Collins to renegotiate his deal to stay with the team. Would a one-year reunion make sense for both parties?”
Barnwell also addresses the immediate trade hurdle of cap space by suggesting that the Browns could convert Collins’ base salary into a signing bonus (the Patriots are extremely limited in cap space).
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Collins is an undeniable talent, earning a Second Team All Pro distinction when he was with the Patriots from 2013-16. He would join Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy in the starting line-up and likely start over Elandon Roberts.
Honestly, Collins is still playing 76% of the Browns’ defensive snaps, which is more than any current Patriots linebacker other than Van Noy (80%). Hightower has exceeded 70% of snaps in a single game just once all year (week 3), while Roberts has hovered around 50% over the past three weeks.
Collins received a temporary boost in playing time since Kirksey missed two games with an injury (he’s a mid-60% snap player in other games), but I’d argue that would justify the Browns keeping Collins around, at least for this year.
As for the Patriots, Van Noy has been the team’s most consistent linebacker this year, so I don’t necessarily agree with Barnwell that acquiring another linebacker should be in order to get Van Noy off the field. Instead, it should be what Barnwell states in his first line- a replacement for Bentley in the middle of the defense.
And Collins would be able to do just that, as he’s able to both stuff the run, rush the quarterback, and drop into coverage at a high level. In fact, Collins could be arguably interchangeable with Hightower and Van Noy, as all three have experience being in the middle of the defense and on the edge. So Collins would make sense in theory as the team could mix-and-match for an optimal linebacker group.
But while Collins would be a fit, I’d go a different direction if I were Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio. I’d bring back linebacker Marquis Flowers, who the Detroit Lions just released on Wednesday.
Flowers is incredibly athletic. He can contribute on special teams. He can cover running backs. He was with the Patriots in 2017 and the 2018 offseason (he was released during final roster cuts), so he’s familiar with the team and the defensive system. He played very well during the final stretch of 2017 when elevated to the starting line-up.
Flowers would likely be available for a much cheaper contract than what Collins is playing under. And Flowers is literally available to be signed, while it would be odd for the Browns to move on from Collins at this point (they’re contending!).
The Patriots only have four linebackers on the roster in Hightower, Van Noy, Roberts, and special teams ace Nicholas Grigsby- Brandon King is technically a linebacker in the same way that Matthew Slater is technically a wide receiver- and could benefit from some additional depth.
So linebacker is a legitimate need for the Patriots depth. I just think signing Marquis Flowers makes a little more sense than trading for Jamie Collins.