In January of 2017, the Browns made Jamie Collins one of the highest-paid linebackers in the NFL. Two years later, the organization moved on from the Pro Bowler. On March 6, 2019, Cleveland released the veteran linebacker.
Collins, of course, spent the first three-plus seasons of his career with the Patriots, earning a Super Bowl ring and a Pro Bowl appearance. Despite his production, New England wasn’t too eager to hand the impending free agent the sizable contract he desired. So, in October of 2016, the Patriots traded Collins off to Cleveland. In return, New England received a third-round pick, a selection that’d ultimately pair with a first-rounder to acquire Brandin Cooks (and a fourth-rounder, which was ultimately forfeited due to Deflategate) from the Saints.
Collins continued producing down the stretch of the 2016 season, and the Browns decided to open their check book for him during the following offseason. Cleveland inked the linebacker to a lucrative four-year, $50MM pact, including $26.4MM in guaranteed money, making him the highest-paid traditional linebacker in the NFL. Collins struggled with injuries during his first full season with the Browns, appearing in only six games. However, he managed to appear in every game during the 2018 campaign, finishing with 104 tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble. Despite the solid numbers, Collins graded out as just the No. 58 ranked LB in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.
The Browns apparently recognized that Collins wasn’t living up to his lofty contract. The team was reportedly looking to move him during the 2018 trade deadline, and they spent the early parts of the 2019 offseason shopping him around. The front office couldn’t find a taker, forcing them to cut bait with the veteran. The move ultimately saved the organization $9.25MM in cap room versus just $2.5MM in dead money.
Predictably, Collins ended up landing back in New England for the 2019 season, starting 15 games and finishing with a career-high seven sacks. That performance earned him a three-year, $30MM contract with the Lions, where he reunited with former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. The 31-year-old started all 14 of his games in 2020, finishing with 101 tackles, one sack, and three forced fumbles.
Is there a lesson to be learned from all this? Eh, maybe, but it wouldn’t be some new revelation. If a team’s so willing to move on from a Pro Bowler at the end of their rookie deal, that’s probably an indication that the team doesn’t believe the player will be worth his second contract. There were already reports that Collins was freelancing on defense during his final half-season in New England, leading to questions about the player’s commitment to winning.
The Browns not only ponied up financially for Collins, but they also gave up assets to acquire his half-season before free agency. Sure, Cleveland’s probably not kicking themselves over a lost third-rounder (a pick that eventually turned into Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson), and the organization is two front offices removed from that 2016 administration. Still, if the organization could receive a mulligan on the trade and contract, they’d probably take it.
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