January 27, 2017


The Patriots Improved Their Defense by Trading Their Best Defender (Jim Chairusmi, 1/27/17, WSJ)

As a star approaching some contract turbulence, Collins fit the operating model at Patriot Place: get something in return for a player that the team isn't planning to extend. He was in the final year of his rookie contract and reportedly seeking a lucrative extension, something that the Patriots were unwilling to give him given the team's salary-cap constraints. This week, the Browns gave Collins a 4-year, $50 million extension, with $26 million guaranteed.

"Bill Belichick has earned the benefit of the doubt," CBS analyst and former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher said. "His record is what it is and he has the best feel for his team."

Although Collins played every defensive snap in the team's first four games this season, the Patriots coaching staff appeared unhappy with his play against the run. By Week 8 against Buffalo, Collins had lost his starting job and was on the field for only 62% of the team's defensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders.

Although he was leading the team with 43 combined tackles and assists at the time of the trade, the move to transition away from Collins had already begun in his final game as a Patriot. In the Oct. 30 game against the Bills, Collins was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Elandon Roberts. After entering on the game's second play, Collins, playing at right outside linebacker, blew his assignment and gave up a 28-yard run. New England's defense allowed a season-high 167 yards rushing for the game.

The following day, Collins was traded to Cleveland.

"We did what we felt like was best for the team and that was really it," Belichick said about trading Collins. "Sometimes it doesn't work out one place and works out somewhere else and that's life. A lot of us have been in those situations."

With a deep linebacker corps that includes Roberts, Dont'a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, the Patriots deemed Collins expendable. Abruptly demoting Collins, a leader on the field, to a part-time player might have threatened the team's morale.

"The problem is when you get in the huddle with your leader, who is your leader?" said ESPN analyst and former NFL coach Herm Edwards. "It's kind of like, if we take him out, why don't we take the left tackle out too? Why don't we take the middle linebacker out when he's struggling? Why don't we take the wide receiver out when he drops two balls? You don't want players playing like that."

The Patriots defense took a short-term hit, but the long-term effects of the trade actually made the team better, with faster and younger players such as Roberts, McClellin and Van Noy playing expanded roles.

Another successful aspect of the Patriot Way is identifying players with talent that have been undervalued by their former teams.

Van Noy, a former second-round pick by the Lions, was acquired in a trade a week before the Collins deal, while McClellin, the Bears' first-round pick in 2012, was signed in the offseason after Chicago declined to pick up his option. In Sunday's AFC Championship, Van Noy made four tackles and forced a fumble.

After allowing 101.6 rushing yards per game in the first eight games of the season with Collins in the lineup, the Patriots held teams to 76.3 rushing yards in the 10 games after the trade. New England also finished the regular season as the No. 1-ranked scoring defense, limiting teams to only 15.6 points per game.

Posted by at January 27, 2017 6:18 AM