The New England Patriots already will see three familiar faces back at Gillette Stadium this week in Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown. Why not a fourth?
Linebacker Jamie Collins, a veteran of two tours with the Patriots, officially was released Tuesday by the Detroit Lions, who tried and failed to trade him. Collins now is free to sign with any team, for any contract he and that team agree upon.
The most obvious landing spot for the 31-year-old? New England, where he began his career in 2013 and then revived it in 2019.
In a tweet after Collins’ release, ESPN’s Field Yates said the linebacker “can now prioritize fit and familiarity when looking for a new home.” The only teams other than the Patriots that can check the “familiarity” box are the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants, both of which are coached by ex-Patriots assistants (Brian Flores and Joe Judge).
Yates also noted Collins still will be banking a cool $8.8 million from the Lions this season, which could make him more open to a bargain-level deal.
Would bringing back Collins be the right move for the Patriots, though? Let’s break it down:
— The Patriots always have gotten the best out of Collins. In his four full seasons in New England (2013, 2014, 2015, 2019), he earned the four highest Pro Football Focus grades of his career. For the first half of 2019, he looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He wasn’t nearly as effective during his stints in Cleveland and Detroit. Head coach Bill Belichick also has a long history of reacquiring Patriots alums, with three such reunions occurring this past offseason (Kyle Van Noy, Trent Brown and Ted Karras).
— The Patriots’ linebacking corps hasn’t looked dominant this season, and the coaching staff has been rotating out players (most notably starter and captain Dont’a Hightower) to keep them fresh. At times during Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Patriots played practice squad call-up Jahlani Tavai while Hightower, who’s still getting back to speed after his 2020 opt-out, sat. That group also has dealt with injuries, with Josh Uche missing last week’s game and Ja’Whaun Bentley sitting out the entire second half. Their statuses for Sunday night’s matchup with the high-powered Tampa Bay Buccaneers are unclear. Collins would improve this rotation and has the versatility and institutional knowledge to play multiple positions in New England’s defense.
— As mentioned, Collins should come cheap.
— Concerns aside, the Patriots are reasonably well-stocked at the linebacker position when everyone’s healthy. Collins likely wouldn’t immediately slide into the starting lineup. Would he be OK with a rotational role?
— Collins did not look good in his two games with the Lions this season, with head coach Dan Campbell openly questioning his effort. He turns 32 next month. Was he just a poor fit for Detroit’s defense and culture, or is he cooked?
It’s also worth noting Collins was not particularly impressive during the second half of his most recent Patriots campaign. That year, six of his seven sacks, seven of his 10 tackles for loss, eight of his 10 quarterback hits, two of his three forced fumbles and all three of his interceptions came in the first eight games.
Sure, why not? If Collins is willing to sign for somewhere near the veteran minimum, this is a flier worth taking.