- Jim Rogash/Getty
The New England Patriots have traded star linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a third round pick, Adam Schefter of ESPN first reported on Monday.
It’s a shocking and completely unexpected move ahead of the NFL’s November 1 trade deadline. Collins, a second round pick out of Southern Mississippi in 2013, was a foundational part of Bill Belichick’s defense and one of the best linebackers in all of football.
According to numerous reports, however, he and the Patriots were nowhere near reaching an agreement on a long-term contract. Collins will be a free agent this off-season, and according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, he turned down an $11 million per year offer from the Pats earlier this season. If the Browns choose to give Collins the franchise tag this summer, he will earn significantly more:
I’m told Collins turned down $11m per year from the Patriots. Franchise Tag should be around $15m this spring
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) October 31, 2016
At first glance, it’s easy to compare this out-of-nowhere trade to the Chandler Jones trade the Patriots made last season. Both are stellar defensive players coming up on big pay-days, so the Patriots – realizing they might not be able to agree to a long-term contract – dealt them while they still had the leverage.
But Jones was also perceived as a distraction in New England after the strange incident at the Foxborough Police Station, where Jones arrived shirtless and surrendered himself, seemingly for no reason.
And what’s especially curious about the Collins trade is that if Collins had left the Patriots in free agency this summer for more money elsewhere, the Patriots would have received a higher compensatory pick in 2018.
Even if Pats think they can’t afford to re-sign Collins, they’d get a high comp pick for him in ’18 if he leaves as UFA. Hmm
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) October 31, 2016
One reading of this trade, then, is that the Patriots are simply cashing in on that pick sooner rather than later, which maybe makes sense considering that the Tom Brady is 39 and the team wants to continue to win now.
And despite the fact that the Patriots are 7-1 this season and cruising to another AFC East title, their defense has been subpar. According to Football Outsiders, their defensive DVOA was 18th in the league after Week 7.
Collins, though a top-10 linebacker, was also underachieving this season. Against Buffalo on Sunday, he received his lowest grade of the season, per Pro Football Focus.
Ultimately, the trade is still a shocker. The Browns are 0-8 and were perceived to be sellers ahead of the November 1 trade deadline. They do have a ton of other draft picks, so losing a third-rounder isn’t hugely costly, plus they have a ton of cap space. Landing a 27-year-old star linebacker is a nice building block in a larger rebuilding plan.
Last week, the Patriots traded for Kyle Van Noy, a little-known linebacker on the Lions. They also have Elandon Roberts, their sixth-round pick in 2016. Belichick, being Belichick, will believe his system is greater than any one piece.
But Collins’ influence in New England can’t be overstated. Either we don’t yet know the full story of what drove the Patriots to trade Collins out of nowhere, or the Pats are really just operating on a different level of football intellect.
One way or the other, only time will tell.