But the New England Patriots provided a surprise Monday by agreeing to deal Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns, reportedly for a conditional third-round draft choice next year.
In some ways, the trade is a stunner because the Patriots, in what could be a Super Bowl season for them, get no immediate return for one of their higher-profile defensive players.
But, really, this is the Patriots’ way. It is Belichick’s way.
The Patriots have been the NFL’s most successful franchise of the salary cap era, as a four-time Super Bowl winner, because Belichick makes unemotional roster decisions that border on ruthless. He once parted ways in equally abrupt fashion with cornerback Ty Law, safety Lawyer Milloy, linebacker Mike Vrabel, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, wide receiver Randy Moss and guard Logan Mankins. He traded pass rusher Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals this past offseason.
Collins is a very versatile and very good player who is in the prime of his career, at age 27. He was selected to his first career Pro Bowl last season as a third-year pro; he had 89 tackles, 5.5 sacks, an interception, five fumbles forced and six pass break-ups. His numbers were similarly impressive through the first half of this season.
But Collins is eligible for unrestricted free agency this offseason and is in line for a very lucrative contract. If Belichick and the Patriots decided that Collins is going to want more money than they’re willing to pay him, this was merely a matter of moving on sooner rather than later. They could have gotten a draft pick in 2018 as compensation for losing him as a free agent this coming offseason. Instead, they get one next year. According to reports, the pick from the Browns will be, at best, a compensatory third-rounder, meaning it will come at the end of the third round.
The Patriots have a record of 7-1 after winning decisively Sunday at Buffalo and clearly appear to be the team to beat league-wide. Not all of Belichick’s roster moves work out as intended, and this one is risky. It is a potentially disruptive maneuver that could derail the push for a fifth Super Bowl title for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady in tandem.
Collins played only a part-time role in the Buffalo game, participating in about two-thirds of New England’s defensive snaps. That was the first hint.
Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, a former general manager for the Browns and an assistant to the Patriots’ coaching staff before parting ways with the team in June, wrote on Twitter that Collins and the New England defense had not been playing well and Belichick needed to do something about it.
“You are either coaching it or allowing it to happen,” Lombardi wrote. “Belichick decided he was not going to allow it to happen.”
Collins goes to a winless team that, after losing Sunday to the New York Jets, could be on its way to an 0-16 season. He becomes a potential building block in Cleveland. Now it is the Browns who must deal with his pending free agency. But they have the option of using the franchise player tag on Collins if they opt to do so.