FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler summed up how some players inside the Patriots locker room felt on the day after linebacker Jamie Collins was traded to Cleveland.
THE COLLINS TRADE: THE DAY AFTER
-- Curran: A drastic move for a not-so-drastic time
-- Lombardi reiterates: He's just not that good
-- Linebackers coach: Collins' 'freelancing' wasn't an issue
-- Patricia lauds Collins
"Shocked," he said. "That's all. Just shocked."
Every player on the team is aware that the NFL is a business. Many of them are aware that they can be cut or traded when they least expect it. But for a Pro Bowler to be dealt mid-season came as a surprise to some.
To others, like veteran defensive end Rob Ninkovich, this is a time to look ahead and focus on what's to come.
"I've played for a long time," said Ninkovich. "There's always change throughout the year. It happens every year. There's injuries that you deal with, there's trades that happen so it's just part of the game. You try to focus on what you can do to improve your game and continue to focus here on the rest of the season. We have to keep marching forward . . .
"[The defense] has to be better. We know that. We have to make more plays. I have to make more plays. That's the way it needs to be. I've played 11 years in the NFL. I know how this business is. I know that it is a business, that it's a performance business, that you have to perform. Maybe for the younger guys it's more of a shock, but for me, I've seen a lot of things happen in my career. They've happened to me. Again, you just have to continue to focus on what you can control. That's how you play moving forward."
Ninkovich has spent time on three different teams over the course of his career. He's been injured. He's been cut. He's been a practice squad player. Yet even he admitted that mid-season trades can be difficult to grasp.
"When you lose a teammate, it's definitely different, and it's a change that could catch you off-guard," he said. "Again, we still have a lot of games here to go and play. You can't let what you can't control affect how you play. For me, it's really to continue to focus on myself and get better. There's a lot of room for improvement. I'm focused on getting through this bye week here, and to play better in the next eight games."
There's an off-the-field component to the Collins trade as well, though, special teams captain Matthew Slater acknowledged.
"Any time you're in this type of situation, it's always tough," he said. "You build relationships with guys off the football field, you get to know guys personnally. It's always tough to see teammates come and go. Unfortunately that's part of the business that we signed up for. It's never an easy pill to swallow, but you have faith that coach is doing what he believes is best for the football team, and all you can worry about a player is doing your job.
"It's difficult. You talk about putting aside your personal feelings, I think oftentimes the human element gets overlooked. The emotional attachments that you have, shared experiences, the shared struggle that you've been through with a player. It's tough. All you can do is take it one day at a time, worry about ourselves as individuals, and take it from there."
As was the case when captain Logan Mankins was traded before the start of the 2014 season, how the Patriots move forward without their teammate will help dictate how the rest of the season shakes out.
"It'll definitely be a challenge for us, but I think this group has shown a great deal of mental toughness, and I think the best thing we can do is take it one day at a time, not worry about what's going to happen one week from now, two weeks from now," Slater said. "Let's just worry about what's going to happen and let's go from there."