Coming off a 2021 season that saw them return to the playoffs but eventually come up short on wild card weekend, the New England Patriots have a long list of to-dos this offseason. One of its items is bringing back players who are scheduled to enter free agency.
There are quite a few of them: all in all, 18 players that were with New England last year are in need of a new contract. Among them is linebacker Jamie Collins, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 16.
Name: Jamie Collins Sr.
Position: Move linebacker
Jersey number: 58
Opening day age: 32
Size: 6-foot-3, 255 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? Following a productive four-year career at Southern Miss, the Patriots selected Collins in the second round of the 2013 draft. An outstanding athlete, who had set a new broad jump record at the Scouting Combine, Collins made an immediate impact as a rookie. Over the next few seasons, he went on to develop into one of the NFL’s most versatile playmakers and a starting member of New England’s defense.
Nonetheless, the Patriots traded him to the Cleveland Browns midway through the 2016 season. He spent two-and-a-half years with the Browns but was released in 2019, paving the way for a return to New England. Following a successful one-year stint with the Patriots, Collins left again: this time, he joined the Detroit Lions on a three-year free agency deal but early in his second season was cut again. Collins eventually re-signed with the Patriots once more.
All in all, Collins has appeared in a combined 131 regular season and playoff games over the course of his career in the NFL. He registered a combined 761 tackles, 29.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles and 14 interceptions. Collins furthermore scored a pair of touchdowns — one a fumble return, the other a pick-six. He was also voted a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro selection once (2015), and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots (2014).
What did his 2021 season look like? Collins’ second season in Detroit began with him serving as a starting linebacker for the team’s first two games of the season. However, the veteran was inactive in Week 3 against the Baltimore Ravens — a sign of things to come: with the Lions unable to find a trade partner, the 0-3 squad decided to release Collins in late September and with almost two full seasons left on the $30 million free agency contract he had signed the previous year.
Collins remained on the open market for one week before returning to his old stomping grounds. The Patriots picked him up on a one-year deal in early October, and he went on to see regular action as a package-specific member of their linebacker corps. In that role, he appeared in 10 regular season contests as well as New England’s playoff loss in Buffalo: Collins was on the field for 234 of 868 defensive snaps over that span (27%) as well as 103 of 359 (28.7%) on special teams.
Whereas the Lions had used him primarily in an off-the-ball role over the first two games of the season, the Patriots employed him as more of a move-type defender — just like they had during his first two stints in New England. Collins once again aligned both on the line of scrimmage as an edge defender and off of it as an inside linebacker. Additionally, Collins saw regular action on three special teams units: punt return, punt coverage and the field goal/extra point blocking squad.
In total, Collins’ 2021 season was a relatively quiet one. Serving primarily in a rotational role behind starter-level move linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, he ended the year with just 21 tackles as well as one sack and interception each. He also missed three games in November on injured reserve after hurting his ankle in Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers. Collins looked better than he had during his time in Detroit, but he no longer looked like the same jack-of-all-trades he was earlier in his career.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? When Collins first joined the Patriots he did so via a standard four-year rookie deal. Before his deal expired but after he was traded to Cleveland, Collins signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Browns. He spent just two years under that deal before returning to New England via a one-year, $2 million pact in 2019. The following year, he signed the aforementioned three-year deal in Detroit worth a total of $30 million. While he also did not see the end of that deal, Collins’ contractual career earnings are estimated at $53.6 million by Over the Cap.
Which teams might be in the running? While Collins’ age and unspectacular 2021 season will prevent him from signing another top-of-the-market deal, he should get some opportunities in free agency. Teams that might take a look at him include the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Las Vegas Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and Tennessee Titans — all of them need help either at the off-the-ball linebacker spot or on the edge.
Why should he be expected back? With fellow linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley both headed for free agency as well, there is a case to be made for the Patriots to retain Collins. He knows the system and offers positional flexibility, and would likely not break the bank. Keeping him on a short-term pact would therefore help New England keep some stability regardless of what happens with Hightower, Bentley and potential salary cap casualty Kyle Van Noy.
Why should he be expected to leave? Patriots assistant coach Jerod Mayo mentioned the team’s desire to get faster and more explosive on the defensive side of the ball this offseason. While Collins is still a superb athlete, the team might prefer to invest in other assets before bringing the 32-year-old back into the fold. Accordingly, Collins might be willing to continue his career elsewhere.
What is his projected free agency outcome? The Patriots will likely not be in any kind of hurry to re-sign Jamie Collins even if they lose Dont’a Hightower or Ja’Whaun Bentley: they probably know he will not have that big a market given his age, recent performance, and unsuccessful stints in Cleveland and Detroit. As a result, they might be able to bring him back on the cheap as a second-wave signing. A veteran salary benefit deal for one year — keeping his cap number ($1.05 million) below the contract’s maximum value ($1.27 million) — might just do the trick.
Will the Patriots re-sign Jamie Collins?
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