If you have been living under a rock, the Patriots traded away star linebacker Jamie Collins yesterday to the Cleveland Browns for a conditional third round draft pick in 2017, according to reports. Collins was in the last year of his rookie contract since being drafted by the Patriots in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Southern Miss. Not a lot of information has been given still, so we will try to analyze best with what we have available.
Some reports indicate that Collins was seeking “Von Miller” type money, referring to the six year, $114.5 million dollar contract he had signed in July. That contract comes with $70 million dollars guaranteed including $42 million of it coming at signing. The Patriots have been known in the past to release/trade players who are in contract years or looking for more money rather than paying them, such as Logan Mankins, Chandler Jones, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Richard Seymour to name a few. After the initial shock has died down, the move is not one that the Patriots haven’t made before, trading away a top player when they are looking for more money. It’s still interesting timing and also considering what they received for him in return; it makes it even more confusing.
Collins has been a staple of this Patriots defense since being drafted, seemingly getting better every year and showing that he is capable of all linebacker responsibilities. He was proficient on run defense, his ability to rush the passer and also to drop back in coverage. He was one of, if not the best players on this defense and had emerged as a leader as well despite being in the league for less than five seasons. The Patriots had been active in the trade market over the past few months, including trading for Eric Rowe, Kyle Van Noy and Barkevious Mingo while trading away A.J. Derby to name only a few transactions. But trading away Collins has a much higher magnitude than all of the other trades the team has made to this point.
In the team’s primarily 4-2-5 (four defensive lineman, two linebackers, five defensive backs) defensive scheme, both Collins and Dont’a Hightower had proved to be one of the best linebacker duos in the game. But with the emergence of rookie Elandon Roberts, we saw him steal some snaps from Collins in week eight for example. Roberts primarily played on early/run downs while Collins would come in on third/pass downs. Former Patriots personnel man Mike Lombardi has also been very vocal about the trade, especially saying that Collins was traded because he has not “played particularly well” along with saying, “Sometimes freelancing is a problem and I think sometimes effort is a problem”.
Collins is coming off of a terrific 2015, where we saw him be named to the NFL’s Second Team All-Pro and garner his first Pro Bowl nod as well. He had missed a game earlier this season due to a hip injury but has accumulated 31 total tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and two interceptions. It’s not to say that Collins has been doing terrific this season, but to say that he hadn’t been doing well may be a bit of a stretch here. Collins appears to be another victim of the “Patriot’s way” it seems, where they trade players owed money soon rather than pay them (except for Tom Brady and Devin McCourty). Still, there are elements to this that are head-scratching, such as what they saw in return for him.
The Patriots were able to get a conditional 2017 third round pick for Collins. Granted, Collins is still slated to be a free agent after the season and there isn’t necessarily a guarantee that Cleveland will be able to sign him to a long-term deal to his liking. Regardless, the Patriots may only get a fourth round pick for Collins, depending on what the draft pick actually turns out to be. The Patriots are in the midst of another terrific season, heading into their bye with a 7-1 record, the best in the NFL. New England would’ve likely received a compensatory draft pick in 2018 if they weren’t able to re-sign Collins in free agency this off-season for what would likely be a third round pick. So essentially, the team was able to get a draft pick for next year’s draft as opposed to waiting one more season. It is worth noting that if the compensatory pick is a fourth rounder, the Patriots may be subject to losing it as they have to forfeit their highest slotted fourth round draft pick (if they have more than one), stemming from the DeflateGate punishment.
The Patriots were heading into this off-season with plenty of key players scheduled to hit free agency including Collins, Hightower, Malcolm Butler, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Duron Harmon and Martellus Bennett to name a few. In order to keep all of these players potentially without leaving them with any cap space, it would likely have been close to impossible to do so. New England already knew this and probably saw that negotiation talks with Collins (per his agent, Bus Cook) were not getting serious and simply traded him rather than keeping him. It’s still a head-scratching move, but other reports, including from Boston Globe’s Ben Volin indicated that Collins had turned down a contract offer of around $11 million dollars per year (Miller’s averages out to about $19 million per year) hint that contract talks were stalled.
According to spotrac.com, the Patriots are currently projected (with an assumed $155,270,000 salary cap for 2017) to have the third highest cap space in the league with $53,231,258. Hightower, Collins, Bennett and Butler will likely all seek top money at their respective positions this off-season, which might have been something the Patriots were looking at as they are half-way through this season. With Collins now gone, we could see the Patriots coming out with news sooner rather than later about potential contract extension with one or even more players that are expected to hit free agency after this season. At heart, the NFL is still very much money-driven and money may have had a big role, if not the biggest role in this sudden trade.
Another reason why the team pulled the trigger on this deal is the solid play from Roberts this season. A sixth round pick in this past NFL Draft from Houston, Roberts was projected by some to not even make the team’s initial 53 man roster coming out of the pre-season. He has played very well including making great plays on run defense and being able to get after the quarterback as well on pass plays. Linebackers coach Brian Flores had this to say on Tuesday of Roberts, “He comes in and works hard and does everything we ask him to do. He has obviously improved a lot over the last 12 weeks. He’s done a good job. He’s earned his playing time, no question.” While it may not have been the biggest reason potentially as to why Collins was traded, it likely had a part in the decision. It would seem that Roberts is slated for a much bigger role on the team with Collins traded.
Several now former teammates, including Sheard, Ninkovich and Roberts did not provide much insight as to how they felt/reacted about the news surrounding Collins. Butler & McCourty both said they were “shocked” upon hearing the news. McCourty went as far to say about Collins, “he was arguably our best defensive player” as well. Flores on Tuesday disagreed with Lombardi’s comments about Collins’ “freelancing” by saying, “I mean, did he make mistakes? Absolutely. But everyone makes mistakes. He made more plays than he made mistakes. I would say that. He was a great player for us.” This is going to be something that will be talked about for the foreseeable future, but we will likely not see any new information on this as witnessed with previous trades.
The team will likely move forward with Roberts as the new starting linebacker opposite Hightower, with Mingo, Van Noy and Shea McClellin all having roles as well.