The New England Patriots traded linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns for a third-round pick in 2016. There had been reports that he demanded “Von Miller money,” refused an $11 million per year offer from the Patriots, and was freelancing on the field.
In his introductory interview in Cleveland, Collins denied the rumored trade demand and refused offer, then said the family atmosphere with the Browns surpassed his former team. Asked if he was hurt that the Patriots seemed to be leaking reports about him on the way out the door, Collins replied, “No. That shows their character. I’m good. I’m happy.”
Three years later, Collins is back in Foxborough. The Patriots signed the linebacker Wednesday, and Collins is expected to participate in the team’s offseason workouts on Thursday.
Collins racked up five interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, and 326 combined tackles over the course of his first four years in New England. He never reached those heights in Cleveland, and the Browns saved $9 million in cap space by cutting him in March.
Here’s what you need to know about the Patriots re-united linebacker:
Dont’a Hightower is happy to have Collins back in Foxborough.
The Patriots traded Collins in October of 2016. By January, his former partner in the linebacking corps, Dont’a Hightower, had moved on but not forgotten the sting of the move.
“It sucked,” Hightower said as the Patriots prepared to face the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. “It’s part of the business and we’ve kind of moved on from it. Obviously he’s doing a good job. He got his contract extended and everything. Everything is going well for him and I obviously wish him the best. We’re here now.”
Collins and Hightower were both set to hit free agency after the 2016 season. There were questions about how the Patriots were going to retain both players, and the team answered them by dealing Collins before the deadline and signing Hightower to a long-term contract.
During that Super Bowl press conference, Hightower was asked to name his favorite defensive player in the NFL. He pondered the question for a moment, then said, “Jamie Collins.”
Hightower welcomed the news Wednesday that the ‘Smash Bros’ were joining forces once more.
— Dont'a Hightower (@zeus30hightower) May 15, 2019
The decision to trade Collins was a surprise.
Hightower wasn’t the only Patriots player to raise an eyebrow at Bill Belichick’s decision to move on from Collins. Safety Devin McCourty noted during a television appearance shortly after the trade that the linebacker had been “a huge piece of our defense, arguably our best defensive player.”
“Obviously, in New England there’s always a lot of changes, there’s always guys coming in and out,” McCourty said. “But when you get a guy like Jamie who was here for four years on the team, very productive player, to lose him is a bit shocking, I think, to everybody on the team.”
The trade came seven months after the Patriots had dealt defensive end Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. The back-to-back moves led Sports Illustrated to write that it was a Lombardi Trophy or bust for Belichick. If New England did not win the Super Bowl, the magazine predicted, fans would wonder whether the head coach had “started to lose his touch?”
Of course, the Patriots won that Super Bowl, reached the following one, and won again in February.
“In the end, we did what we thought was best for the football team. There are a lot of things to take into consideration. I’m sure we could bring up a lot of points to talk about, but in the end, that’s really the bottom line,” Belichick said when asked about the Collins trade.
Former Patriots assistant Michael Lombardi shed some light on the decision at the time. The NFL analyst pointed to the linebacker’s inconsistent effort and tendency to freelance instead of sticking to his defensive assignments. Those attributes were not worth a lucrative long-term deal from the Patriots’ perspective.
“[Belichick]’s trading a guy who is very talented, but very moody, very inconsistent with his effort, and so for him to pay that player that type of money sends a message to the locker room that, look, I tolerate this and I reward this,” Lombardi said.
Cleveland was willing to ink Collins to that sort of contract (four years, $50 million). Although the linebacker finished the 2018 season with 104 tackles and four sacks, he disappeared for stretches and the Browns decided to release him two years into the deal.
Collins was a standout performer at the NFL Combine.
The Patriots drafted Collins in the second round (No. 52 overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft. At the Scouting Combine ahead of that draft, Collins had leaped into the spotlight with a record-breaking showcase of athleticism.
The Mississippi native, who led his high school to the state championship as a quarterback and doubled as a track and field star, starred for the University of Southern Mississippi. He earned a first-team All-Conference USA nod as a senior after tallying 314 tackles, 21 sacks, and three interceptions.
Then, at the Combine, Collins finished with the second-best vertical jump and set the broad jump record with an 11’7″ mark. The linebacker nearly over-leaped the markers, which only went to 12 feet.
He used that athleticism to great effect in his first Foxborough tenure, especially in the postseason. Collins had his first interception and first sack in his playoff debut against the Indianapolis Colts in 2014. He compiled 23 combined tackles and an interception during New England’s run to the Super Bowl the following season, then added another 14 tackles and two sacks in his final playoffs as a Patriot.
Belichick and the Patriots are hoping Collins can replicate that impact this time around.