Some quick-hit thoughts on the Jamie Collins deal . . .
THE BUSINESS SIDE OF THINGS
At the end of the year, Jamie Collins is going to be a free agent and in line for a contract in the $50 million range, given his physical prowess and what he's put on tape when he's been at his best for a very good team. In addition, Dont'a Hightower will also be a free agent, and cornerback Malcolm Butler -- a restricted free agent – is making the minimum right now and needs a bump badly. Additionally, the Patriots have other free agents-to-be in Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Jabaal Sheard. They already shipped Chandler Jones out of town for what turned out to be draft-pick compensation. Now they’ve sent Collins away for a third-round pick. Can’t pay 'em all. That’s the nuts-and-bolts "why" of it, though, if they'd wanted to, the Pats certainly could have done enough financial gymnastics to make it work. So why didn’t they?
-- Pats ship Collins to Cleveland
-- Lombardi: This was a long time coming
-- Chandler Jones says 'Sheesh,' but Pats fan Nerlens Noel thinks #Westillgravy
-- Did Belichick hint at trade Monday morning?
THE FOOTBALL SIDE OF THINGS
A second-round pick in 2012, Collins is a breathtaking athlete. His pick against Houston this season -- his best game of the year and really the only one where he seemed to play to his All-Pro potential -- was a combination of the smarts, instincts and physical skills with the ball and in covering space. But aside from that game, Collins had been just kinda …. out there in a lot of games. He drew a key hold last week against Pittsburgh that wiped out a Steelers touchdown, but aside from that he’s not impacting things. Often, that’s related to scheme. The Patriots have been playing passively on defense, not trying to force opponent mistakes as much as merely waiting for them. I’ve stated weekly that the work of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has been underwhelming this year and Buffalo -- a team bereft of passing-game threats -- still carved up New England on the ground. Collins takes the fall, a message gets sent, and a player who Bill Belichick confidante Mike Lombardi intimates was freelancing all season is excised from the roster. Personally, I thought Collins’ play had leveled off and -- for a player who I believed was tracking to becoming an All-Pro -- he made some awful plays in big moments (two TDs for Denver tight end Owen Daniels in last year’s AFC Championship Game being an example). I’m still stunned he was dealt because I never would have believed the situation dire. But it apparently was.
THE LOCKER ROOM
At the very least, Belichick now has his team’s attention heading into the bye week. The trade of Collins -- like those of Lawyer Milloy, Deion Branch, Richard Seymour and Logan Mankins -- is an in-season move that makes your chin hit your sternum initially. Then you get to thinking that if Belichick's mantra is "Doing what’s best for the football team . . . " how does this satisfy that? This very talented part being elsewhere may make the whole better in the long run. But how soon? And how much fallout will there be among Collins' teammates? Collins avoided speaking with the media. Ever. But that doesn’t mark anyone as a bad guy in the tight-lipped Patriots locker room. Players and former players I know well -- Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, etc. -- had nothing bad to say about him, and the marveling at Collins' freakish ability was universal. In the short run, guys will have a "Jamie got traded, Chandler got traded, what are we doing here . . . ?" reaction. But Belichick is expert at getting across the message that he'll worry about the personnel moves and the players should just worry about the playing.
Barkevious Mingo was the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Collins was the 50th in 2012. If you put them next to each other, Collins looks like the guy who’d be taken sixth. He's bigger and stronger than Mingo. Faster? Don’t know. But in Mingo -- who came from the place Collins is headed -- and Kyle Van Noy, surprisingly acquired last week from Detroit, the Patriots now have two guys they can try to meld into one Collins. Meanwhile, they have rookie thumper Elandon Roberts in the middle of the defense. They are going to be more reliant than ever on Hightower, though, and the brilliant but often-injured linebacker will be sorely missed if he goes down and the Pats are left with such untested players at that level. Meanwhile, if the Patriots want to be more aggressive in the second half of the year, they just got rid of their most explosive athlete.
DO I LIKE IT?
Not a lot. But I've also believed there’s way too much talent all over this defense for the Patriots to be getting the results they've been getting. First-rounders at every level and Buffalo scores 25? And Pittsburgh's down 14-13 in the third? I've laid more blame on Patricia being slow to adjust and being too passive scheme-wise. But I've also looked at Collins as a major disappointment. I don't think they're better now than they were this morning. But I've been more strident in believing they were making mistakes in years gone by when deals like this happened, and I've been proven wrong. So I've found the best thing to do is render judgment after some games have been played. Believe this, though: Collins won’t be making the Patriots regret this move when the Pats see Cleveland in the playoffs.