The New England Patriots have nearly 20 players set to hit free agency when the NFL league year opens March 16. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at each one. Next up: linebacker Jamie Collins.
2021 SEASON REVIEW
The Patriots must get younger and more explosive at linebacker, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a place for some of the “Boogeymen.”
Jamie Collins was released by the Detroit Lions in late September and shortly afterward signed in New England for a third tour of duty. The veteran linebacker played sparingly over the next two months, including missing three games with an ankle injury, but his playing time increased during the stretch run. From Week 14 through the wild-card loss to the Buffalo Bills, Collins played 71, 47, 17, 65 and 61% of defensive snaps, respectively.
And the 32-year-old played well. Collins finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ seventh-ranked linebacker, his highest grading since the 2015 campaign. No longer quite as fast as he was during his prime, Collins nevertheless rode still-impressive athleticism and greater maturity to an impressive season. He also was among the best-dressed players on the 2021 Patriots, for what it’s worth.
But should New England, which has multiple issues to address across its roster, bring Collins back for another season? Let’s look at cases for and against the Patriots re-signing a player who will turn 33 in October.
CASE FOR RE-SIGNING
Collins might be the defense’s version of Trent Brown, in that it’s clear to everyone, including other NFL teams, that he belongs in New England. His underwhelming performances with the Lions and the Cleveland Browns, coupled with his age, likely will prevent Collins from getting big offers on the open market.
If all it would take to re-sign Collins is, say, $1-2 million, the Patriots should consider making it happen. Kyla Van Noy is aging, too, and Dont’a Hightower, who’s yet to reveal his 2022 plans, looked finished at the end of the season. Ja’Whaun Bentley also is a free agent, and New England’s younger linebackers still haven’t forced their way into consistent roles. The versatile Collins still can be a useful part-time player, even though he’s lost a step.
Re-signing Collins would make sense for both sides, so long as the intention isn’t to make him an every-down player.
CASE AGAINST RE-SIGNING
At some point, the Patriots need to rip the proverbial Band-Aid and see what they have in players such as Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Anfernee Jennings and even Cameron McGrone. Constantly running it back with smart-but-aging players clearly isn’t working, as evidenced by the defense’s late-season failures the last three years.
If New England can’t find a younger player, either already on the roster or in the 2022 NFL Draft, who can replicate what a 32-year-old Collins offers, then it has a real problem. Collins still is a decent player but he’s far from irreplaceable.
He, Hightower, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden and James White all are free agents this offseason and all will be 30 years or older next season. They can’t all come back, and if Collins is one of the casualties, so be it.