Is the former Cleveland Browns head coach going to come out on top again versus the team he loves to torment, by signing Jamie Collins?
Bill Belichick is up to his old tricks again, signing Jamie Collins after he had been let go by the Cleveland Browns. Is the former Browns head coach going to come out on top again versus his old team, who he has enjoyed tormenting over the years?
It was only a few years ago that the Dawg Pound was chortling over the brilliant trade by Sashi Brown, who brought Collins over from the Patriots for a mere third round draft pick, and then signed him to a four-year $50 million contract, making him one of the highest paid linebackers in football. But Collins’ Browns career was marred by injury and unfulfilled expectations.
It’s not that he was bad, because he wasn’t. Collins led the team in tackles in 2019 despite playing on the outside, edging Joe Schobert 104-103. Collins also had 73 solo tackles, one more than Damarious Randall and 16 more than Schobert. He also led the team in tackles for a loss, (TFL), edging Myles Garrett 13-12. Pro Football Focus ranks Collins as the 58th best linebacker in the NFL. That implies that he was a borderline starter, not a star.
Indeed, the Browns front seven was not impressive last year overall. Opposing offenses often double-teamed Myles Garrett, daring someone else to step up. Usually the dare went unanswered, as the Browns gave up a mind-boggling 2,163 yards on the ground and 4.7 yards per attempt. If you were wondering why the Browns made moves to get two professional linemen this off season, now you know why. Garrett had 13.5 sacks last year despite being often double-teamed, and the rest of the team had 23.5 sacks, which is a pathetic total.
Hence it is difficult to get too excited about tackling stats from Browns linebackers because the tackle usually came after someone up front got pancaked.
However, Collins led NFL linebackers in salary cap charges, at over $12 million per year. It simply doesn’t make sense to pay even a very good linebacker at the same rate as a Pro Bowl talent. The Browns front office correctly decided he was not worth it and let him go. Now the Patriots have picked him up again despite his acrimonious departure in 2016.
Collins left the Patriots in a contract dispute, and was accused of letting contract issues affect him on the field, causing them to trade him to Cleveland. With the Browns, he was definitely not the rah-rah type, but for the most part he played hard for the Browns and put up numbers. If there is a complaint, it is probably with Sashi Brown for overpaying for him, but that is not the fault of the player.
Still, they could have kept the draft pick and selected an average NFL linebacker in the third round and saved everybody a headache. Collins is going to get blamed for that, fair or not.
Collins was probably shocked to find out that other teams basically agreed with the Browns and so no one was willing to meet his demands. Sometimes in similar situations, players are willing to agree to a pay cut to stay with their team. But by signing with the Patriots, Collins provides himself with the narrative about going back home to complete his unfinished business. Collins has a Super Bowl ring, but missed out on the chance to collect two more while he was getting rich with the Browns.
Although the Browns decision to let him go was unquestionably the right call, he might actually thrive in the Patriots’ defense. Early in his career, Collins was one of those guys who was really big (6-3, 250 pounds) but also quick and fast enough to play in pass coverage . Accordingly, the buzz on Collins was that he was so versatile that you could plug him in at middle linebacker or outside linebacker.
After years of nicks, bumps and scrapes, not to mention knee surgery, Collins may have lost a step or two. But he’s still a force, especially against the run. He’s a very big outside linebacker in today’s 4-3 defense, but much better suited in a 3-4 defense. He may no longer be an every-down linebacker, but probably does not need to be. The Patriots currently play mainly a three-four defense, and he might be a better fit at this point in his career.
Over the years Belichick has collected a number of ex-Browns, and to add insult to injury, over a dozen have earned Super Bowl rings. This year’s crop includes Brian Hoyer, Jason McCourty, Danny Shelton and even wayward Josh Gordon, who was a no-show for the playoffs while he was involved in extracurricular chemistry.
2018 was an exception, because Gordon, McCourty and Shelton were apparently moved for non-football reasons. But most of the time, the Browns were just not able to recognize talent. Time and again the Dawg Pound gloated after sticking the Patriots with terrible players, only to find out that perhaps they were not so terrible after all, especially if they are used right.
And by the way, this game is not about getting the nicest draft picks, it’s about winning the Super Bowl.
However, in this case, the Browns definitely made the only sane decision possible in cutting Collins. He was definitely overpaid even though he is still a quality player.
He is no longer a star, however, and if Belichick had little patience for drama the first time, he will have even less patience on the second go-round.
It wouldn’t be a shock if the Browns see this guy in January.