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Breaking Down The Jamie Collins Trade

On Monday, Cleveland and New England stimulated a traditionally dreary trade-deadline by delivering Pro Bowl inside linebacker Jamie Collins from the best team in the NFL to the worst. I break down what it means for both teams and the player.

The Trade Itself

Jamie Collins is a highlight-reel inside linebacker, an athletic freak capable in run the game, exceptional in coverage, and damn good rushing the passer. He was a second-team All Pro in 2015, so you know, he’s pretty good. A 2013 second-round pick, he’s formed a pretty ferocious tandem with Dont’a Hightower in New England. Obviously though, not enough to prevent them sending him to Cleveland in exchange for either a compensatory third-round pick (if Cleveland get one), or Cleveland’s fourth round pick. This is much the same thing, in practice.

What It Means For New England

At first glance, this is a pretty bizarre move on the Pats’ part. For all his reputation, Belichick hasn’t got the best record on recent trades – remember when he traded away Logan Mankins mid-season, the O-Line crumbled, and they missed out on a Super Bowl basically as a result? And that Chandler Jones trade hasn’t worked out too badly for Arizona, has it? Beyond that, there aren’t many recent trade acquisitions doing it for the Pats – Jonathan Cooper and Tim Wright got cut, as did Keshawn Martin. Akiem Hicks is doing pretty well in Chicago, so at least the Pats got a compensatory pick for him.

If the Collins trade goes south, at least the Pats had their reasons. Collins’ contract is due for renewal at the end of the season – indeed, many thought the Pats traded away Jones so they could afford him. Leaks initially came out saying Collins wanted “Von Miller money” – undoubtedly a lie given how these things work, but it’s easy to believe he wanted more than the $10m/year the Pats would likely have offered. So the Pats knew they weren’t going to keep him. Although him leaving in free agency would’ve likely netted them a compensatory pick, that would only have been if (and it’s a bit more complicated than this, but here’s a broad strokes) they let more decent players go than signed in free agency as a total. This way, they’re guaranteed a pick around there, and can go sign whoever they like in free agency. Finally, their sixth-round pick Elandon Roberts is seen as a pretty good successor to Collins, thus meaning they have a succession plan and can probably lose Collins without taking a major hit to their play.

They’re still losing an incredibly good player though. Given how the Pats D-Line and pass-rush has struggled as we’ve progressed through this season, the performances of Collins and Hightower have become more important. New England had better hope Roberts carries on at a level, or they’re going to have one extra weakness on defense. It’s generally a counterintuitive trade because you expect the worst team to trade away their best players to the best team. They need draft picks for a rebuild, and the best team is willing to lose picks if it’ll help them win now.

What It Means For Cleveland

Cleveland are the rare terrible team that can afford to give up draft picks – they traded away enough top picks to have a whopping 14 picks last year, and already have two first and two second round picks in 2017. In fact, they have New England’s 5th rounder already, as a result of trading away Barkevious Mingo. So they can do this without having more than a negligible impact on their draft strategy.

Maybe Cleveland were thinking about dipping their toe into the Jamie Collins market, and didn’t want to end up with buyer’s remorse. This is an excellent strategy if so. When a player moves teams, there’s really no guarantee they’ll replicate their previous form. When that player’s a big-money free agency signing, it’s a good way for general managers to lose their jobs. So, why not try Collins out for eight games, to see if he fits in your system and has the right work-ethic and attitude? If he does, at the very worst you can franchise tag him the following season, so you get him for a season and a half total, but you’re in prime position to tie him down long-term. If he doesn’t, well then he’s off at the end of the season, and there’s a fairly good chance you’ll see that pick back as a compensatory pick the next year.

You’d expect Collins to fit in quite well in Cleveland. Sure there’s a scheme to be learned, but Collins is also a bit of a free-wheeler, who gained a (sometimes negative) reputation in New England for going off-scheme, even when making vital plays. Of course Bill Belichick is the sort of coach who’d spite-bench a player for making a game-winning play if it wasn’t in the scheme he drew up. Back on-topic, it should help him hit the ground running more. Playing alongside the ever-improving Christian Kirksey should create a pretty fearsome linebacker duo. In fact, between that and the improving secondary, Cleveland is starting to maybe get somewhere back there!

(Jared Wickerham / Getty Images)

What It Means For Jamie Collins

Well, first up it’s enabled Bill Belichick to get his catamites out (Hi, Mike Lombardi!) to trash Jamie Collins’ effort. The same effort he was praised for in the fourth quarter of blowouts while at college at Southern Mississippi. Belichick is very much the Jose Mourinho of the NFL, and it’s also always instructive to contrast his approach to that adopted by Gregg Popovich – his equivalent at least success-wise in the NBA. As a man, Belichick suffers. But that’s my own personal agenda on this. And Pop is great, so there’s that.

For Jamie Collins, he was never going to earn the Luke Kuechly-esque money he wanted at New England. He might at Cleveland, who are okay by the salary cap for a few years, though they need to be careful not to set a precedent as an over-payer of free agents. If he doesn’t earn it at Cleveland, he will somewhere else, but that would’ve been the same situation had he still been at New England.

Collins maybe has the chance to prove he can be a standout player on a bad team, which let’s be honest, bad teams do tend to be the ones that pay huge money in free agency, so that’s likely Collins’ market. Realistically, this isn’t a move that benefits Collins to any degree – the best that can be hoped is that it doesn’t hamper his career.

Who Wins? Who Loses?

There are ways in which both the Pats and the Browns win. The Pats win if they win the Super Bowl, which has to be the only expectation for this season. If Elandon Roberts steps up this season and the next couple, they win too. If they don’t win the Super Bowl this season, it’s probably a lose. If they don’t win one in the next, say, two or three seasons, and the pick they acquired in the trade is a poor one, they lose. This is the best-coached, potentially most talented roster but definitely most talented team in the NFL. A Super Bowl should, at this point, be their minimum expectation.

The Browns probably win. They’re lousy with picks, so can afford to let one go, get a stud linebacker for a minimum eight games and continue the rebuilding process. Even if Collins leaves at the end of the season, provided Cleveland get a compensatory pick (and I think they will – I don’t see them doing much in free agency when there are so many players to be drafted), they at least don’t lose. Cleveland can lose in a few ways though: one is if Collins plays very well but they don’t sign him to an extension, and he goes and excels somewhere else. Another is if they give Collins an extension early on, and he completely flops in Cleveland. A final one is if Collins leaves, and because of their activity in free agency, Cleveland don’t get a compensatory pick.

Collins wins if he gets paid more than he would’ve done in New England. Simple as that. He already has a Super Bowl and individual accolades, after all.

For the Pats, I think they know this isn’t a great trade, hence why the coach’s supporters have come out to throw Jamie Collins under the bus. It works out fine for them if Roberts comes through, and if, say, they don’t start struggling a bit more against the run, and when covering tight ends and running backs. But that only makes it fine. It’s very unlikely a late third-round pick is going to be as good as Jamie Collins has been for the Pats – he’s played like a mid-first rounder despite being a late-second rounder.

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