FOXBORO, Mass. — It didn’t take Jamie Collins long to feel at home again in the New England Patriots’ locker room.
The Patriots brought Collins back for a third tour of duty Wednesday, signing him to a free agent contract after the Detroit Lions released him a week earlier. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is expected to bring speed to the Patriots’ linebacking corps — and a dash of excitement behind the scenes.
“It’s fun, man,” veteran safety Devin McCourty said Wednesday. “As soon as he got in here, (he was) cracking jokes and getting it going. (He’s) obviously a guy that’s played here and played at an extremely high level throughout his career, so having him back here is going to be great. I think he brings great energy and a presence in the locker room just by how he is.
“I think the cast of characters and combination between him and Matthew Judon should be exciting day in and day out. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Collins’ first stint in New England lasted from 2013 until October 2016, when he was traded to the Cleveland Browns. After he flamed out in Cleveland, the Patriots signed him to a bargain-bin contract ahead of the 2019 season. That year, he played well enough to command a three-year, $30 million deal from the Lions. He made it through a season and change in Detroit before being cut loose and scooped up by the Patriots once again.
The experienced linebacker’s latest return coincided with cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s departure. The Patriots traded Gilmore to the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday after a prolonged contract dispute, clearing salary cap space to sign Collins.
“It’s like I lost one friend and I got another one back,” running back Brandon Bolden said. “It’s been great. We missed (Collins) to death. We definitely stayed in touch. We always stayed in touch. Jamie’s been like a little brother to me. Great to have him back, and we’ll see how that goes.”
Collins joins a Patriots linebacker group that features two fellow 2019 “Boogeymen” (Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy) along with some players who will be playing alongside Collins for the first time, including standout newcomer Judon and 2020 second-round draft pick Josh Uche.
Uche said he watched film of Collins when he joined the Patriots and came away impressed.
“Just watching him on film when I first got here, just seeing how athletic he is, how explosive he is,” Uche said. “(I was) just kind of trying to take some things from his game and put it into my game. The things I saw on film from last year, from studying the Pats — definitely some great things I saw. … Just versatility, being athletic, speed and stuff like that. That’s kind of the trend with Patriots linebackers.”
Though Collins was at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, he did not practice. It’s unclear whether the Patriots plan to insert him into the lineup for Sunday’s Week 5 matchup against the Houston Texans.