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What re-signing linebacker Jamie Collins means for the Patriots

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NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, the New England Patriots brought a familiar face back into the fold: the team reportedly re-signed linebacker Jamie Collins, who started his NFL career as a Patriots second-round draft pick in 2013 and appeared in a combined 57 regular season and playoff games for the club. After two and a half years with the Cleveland Browns, Collins now returns to the team with which he won the Super Bowl in 2014.

Let’s find out what adding the 29-year-old means, especially for a Patriots defense that appears to be pretty deep at this point in time.

New England has a plan in mind for Collins

During his first stint in New England, the Patriots used Collins in various ways to take advantage of his outstanding athletic skills: he rushed the passer, he dropped into coverage against tight ends, he aligned on the strong side and the weak side of the formation. It remains to be seen whether or not the Patriots will employ him in similar fashion now, but one thing seems certain: they do have a plan for him in mind and think his presence could improve the defense, or otherwise Collins would not have been brought back.

Collins gives the Patriots flexibility

New England has a versatile group of linebackers under contract: Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are jack-of-all-trade options capable of playing on the line and in space, Elandon Roberts improved noticeably as a coverage defender in 2018, and Ja’Whaun Bentley showed promise both against the run and the pass last year. Adding Collins to this group gives the Patriots defense even more flexibility given his own versatility: he adds depth and experience behind top options Hightower and Van Noy, and takes pressure off Bentley coming back from a season-ending biceps injury.

Jerod Mayo and the Patriots defense get a familiar face to work with

The Patriots’ new inside linebackers coach knows his team’s latest signing pretty well: Mayo and Collins played alongside each other from 2013 to 2015, which means that the former should have a pretty clear picture of the latter’s strengths and weaknesses — and how to best work with them. In general, Collins is an experienced option after having appeared in 57 games for New England before he was shipped off to Cleveland midway through the 2016 season. He should be able to get up to speed rather quickly given his familiarity with the scheme and its terminology.

The salary cap likely won’t be impacted too much

When the Browns signed Collins to a four-year, $50 million contract in early 2017, they paid top dollar for one of the NFL’s most intriguing linebackers. Since then, Collins’ status has changed quite a bit: after two inconsistent and injury-riddled years in Cleveland, he spent more than two months on the open market before getting picked up by the Patriots. Needless to say that the team likely did not overpay to get its hands on its former second-round investment once again.

Last year’s trade rumors were not unfounded

Ahead of last year’s trade deadline, The Athletic’s Jeff Howe reported that the Patriots were having internal discussions about potentially re-acquiring Jamie Collins from the Browns. Those talks did obviously not reach a point at which the club felt prompted to pull the trigger. However, today’s news pretty much confirms Howe’s report from last October — and that the Patriots have had their eyes on Collins for quite some time now.

The Patriots will need to make a corresponding roster move

As things stand right now, the Patriots have a full offseason roster: 90 men are under contract with the club, which means that it will need to make a corresponding move once Collins officially gets brought back. There are plenty of candidates to get the axe in favor of the veteran linebacker — from undrafted rookie signings like offensive linemen Tyree St. Louis or Tyler Gauthier to depth linebacker Calvin Munson.

Collins is no roster lock

While Collins is a big-name player, his status on the team will likely be a volatile one: New England is pretty strong at linebacker even without him in the fold, so the one-time Pro Bowler will need to earn his role on the team — especially considering that the Patriots’ financial commitments will likely be limited. Collins certainly has value to the organization in its own eyes, but if he fails to justify the trust put in him by Bill Belichick and company it will not be a surprise to see the club move on from him again.