A week before free agency begins in the NFL, another big name has already hit the market. On Wednesday, the Cleveland Browns announced that they have released veteran linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. just a couple years after making the aggressive move trading for him at the 2016 trade deadline and signing him to a four-year deal. The move saves Cleveland $9.25 million.
Collins obviously has links to Detroit, and they begin and end with his three-and-half years with the New England Patriots. Bob Quinn was part of the personnel department that decided to draft Collins in the second round in 2013. Matt Patricia was his defensive coordinator for his entire Patriots career, which included an All-Pro season and a Super Bowl win.
But while Collins thrived in New England, his time there will always be marred by their strange mid-season divorce. Some believed the Patriots moved on from Collins because they knew they weren’t going to meet his contract demands in his upcoming free agency. Others contend that Collins was “freelancing” on defense, instead of abiding by New England’s strict “do your job” mantra. Either way, it’s now clear the Patriots made the right move at the time.
But would Patricia be interested in a reunion three years later? The Detroit Lions are certainly in the market for defensive playmakers, and while linebacker isn’t their most pronounced need, Collins would certain bolster a pretty thin squad.
The talent Collins possesses is obvious. He’s a three-down linebacker that can truly do it all. With the Patriots, Collins was their do-it-all back. He pressured the quarterback, he dropped into coverage, he helped stacked the box against the run. In 2015, he made the All-Pro second team while notching PFF’s fourth-highest grade for linebackers.
But things didn’t work out so well when he went to Cleveland. His effort was questioned, he lost nearly an entire season to injury, his production drastically dropped, and his PFF grades plummeted to just 42.1 and 62.3 in his past two seasons. Cleveland still used him a ton when he was healthy (90.7 percent of defensive snaps in 2018), but his price tag and a change of defensive scheme made him a pretty easy cap casualty.
Could a reunion with Patricia rekindle the fire that made Collins such a menace on the field just three years ago? We’ve already seen Patricia take other team’s castoffs—Romeo Okwara and Devon Kennard—and turn them into productive players. And with a player like Collins, who will already be well-versed in Patricia’s defense, he could easily slide right back into the role that made him dominant in New England.
And perhaps the ugliness of the divorce between New England and Collins was overstated. After all, the Patriots were reportedly in discussions with the Browns to actually trade back for Collins at last year’s trade deadline. If Collins was truly the headache that some claim him to be, why would New England bother to discuss bringing him back?
There aren’t many coaches around that know Collins better than Patricia, so if he’s worth the risk, he’ll take his shot. Collins has talent, that much isn’t really up for discussion. The question is whether Patricia has the key to unlock that potential and whether he’s willing to pay for it.