As a child in the suburbs of New Orleans, Landon Collins loved no football player more than Sean Taylor. He loved the way Taylor prowled the field and the way Taylor pounded his shoulders into the chests of ballcarriers. He wore jersey No. 21 because it was Taylor’s NFL number, dreamed of going to the University of Miami because it was Taylor’s college and hoped that someday he could play for the Washington Redskins because they were Taylor’s NFL team.
So on Monday afternoon, when Collins learned he was going to be a Redskin, he started to cry.
He was driving down Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami, heading to a workout at Florida International University, when his agent phoned with the news. Washington was offering a six-year deal worth $84 million. And while the money was outrageous, the team was what hit him the most. The Redskins. His Redskins. Sean Taylor’s Redskins.
“I literally broke down,” Collins said Thursday during his introductory news conference at the Redskins’ headquarters.
He didn’t pull over. His workout awaited. But all the way to the college where he was meeting workout guru Andreu Swasey, who once trained Taylor at Miami, “I was in shock and awe and humbly gracious for this opportunity,” he recalled.
Later that day, Collins sat on the balcony of his Miami hotel and tried to ponder what had just happened.
“I still haven’t taken it all in,” he said with a laugh.
It was not the first time Collins talked about crying during his first public event as a player for Taylor’s old team in a building where Taylor used to come every day for practice and team meetings. Nor would his eyes stay dry on the day he was officially announced as a Redskin. Over the years, many top players have come to Washington with big new contracts, promising huge careers, but rarely has one seemed so happy to actually be with the Redskins.
After telling the story of how he burst into tears while driving through Miami on Monday, he told another story — one he had repeated a few times Thursday — about how team owner Daniel Snyder gave him a signed, game-worn Taylor jersey. Snyder had kept the shirt in a box, making him wait for what seemed like forever before revealing what was inside.
Collins said he bawled when Snyder handed him the box, shaking so much that his son had to open the package. Even then, as the jersey spilled out, Collins couldn’t touch it. He sat stunned, unable to speak. Finally, former Alabama teammate Ryan Anderson, who was also at the dinner, joked: “I should have told you what was in the box so you wouldn’t have to cry.”
Several times Thursday afternoon, Collins was asked whether he will be allowed to wear Taylor’s No. 21, which has never been worn by a Washington player since Taylor’s 2007 death. He said he didn’t know, that he would have to ask Snyder and Taylor’s family. But it was clear he wants the number very much.
“I love that burden,” he said of the pressure that would come with it. “I love that passion. I love that on my shoulders. I definitely could carry that.”
He shrugged. Sometimes you don’t get to live all your dreams. NCAA sanctions kept Collins from playing at Miami, and when he left Alabama after his junior year in 2015, it was the New York Giants who drafted him in the second round. He built a reputation as one of the game’s best young safeties, going to three Pro Bowls in four seasons, but also as a player better suited to playing in the box as a run defender than defending the pass.
He bristled a bit at the slight, saying, “When I get the opportunity to show I can play different spots, I will.” He said Anderson and defensive tackle Jonathan Allen — another former Alabama teammate — lobbied him hard in recent days, saying the Redskins would do anything for him. Not that he needed much urging. He had studied Washington’s defense a lot in recent years, given the Giants and Redskins play twice a year. But he paid even more attention when another former Alabama teammate, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, came to Washington in a trade last season. He saw the way safeties are used in defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s system and thought he might be a good fit.
Things were falling apart with the Giants, Collins said, and as free agency approached, he sensed that the team was rebuilding and that it might not want to bring him back. And when that happened, when the Giants didn’t use their franchise tag on him and his agent called a few days later with Washington’s offer, he was elated.
This much seemed clear as he walked around the facility Thursday.
“My best strength is going to literally be leadership,” Collins said. “I lead by example, and that’s about it. We are going to have fun, I can tell you that much.”
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