Ben Watson might not be the only former New England Patriot returning to Foxboro this spring.
The Patriots are in talks with Jamie Collins about potentially bringing the free agent linebacker back to New England, NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday.
In fact, a Patriots-Collins reunion is “likely,” per Rapoport.
The Patriots drafted Collins in the second round (52nd overall) in 2013. He started all but one game for the 2014 Patriots squad that won Super Bowl XLIX, then went on to earn Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors in 2015.
Midway through the 2016 season, however, the Patriots traded Collins to the Cleveland Browns, netting just a conditional third-round draft pick in return. After the trade, reports surfaced of Collins “freelancing” and refusing to play within the Patriots’ defensive structure, prompting the team to ship him out.
New England fared just fine without one of its biggest defensive stars — the Patriots won the Super Bowl that year, then won an AFC championship the following year and another Super Bowl title the year after that — and Collins never panned out in Cleveland. He signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Browns in January 2017 but was released two years later after reported attempts to trade him were unsuccessful.
Before his release, Collins played in all 16 games last season and put up solid numbers, tallying 104 tackles, four sacks, 13 tackles for loss, one interception and four pass breakups. His performance was panned by the advanced stats community, however, as he finished the year as Pro Football Focus’ 58th-ranked linebacker.
If Collins, who turns 30 in October and has been available in free agency since March, and the Patriots do come to terms on a deal, he’ll join a New England linebacking corps that returns every player from last year’s championship squad. The team’s depth chart currently consists of Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, John Simon, Christian Sam, Calvin Munson, Shilique Calhoun and undrafted rookie Terez Hall.
Jerod Mayo, Collins’ former teammate, was hired earlier this offseason to coach the Patriots’ inside linebackers. Promoted coaching assistant DeMarcus Covington will coach the team’s outside ‘backers.
Collins would be the fourth veteran addition for the Patriots during the second wave of free agency, which began with the passing of the compensatory draft pick deadline last week. New England already has signed Watson, wide receiver Dontrelle Inman and offensive tackle Jared Veldheer to its 90-man roster.