FOXBORO -- What compels Bill Belichick to do things like this?
Why -- when things appear to be rolling along just fine -- does he feel the need to figuratively toddle into his locker room, drop a cherry bomb in a trash can and silently walk away while the rest of his team is jolted awake with a “WHAT THE F***?!?!?!?!”
THE COLLINS TRADE: THE DAY AFTER
-- Lombardi reiterates: He's just not that good
-- Linebackers coach: Collins' 'freelancing' wasn't an issue
-- Patricia lauds Collins
-- Butler: 'Shocked. Just shocked' at trade
What was he not seeing from his players and defensive coaching staff that would prompt him to tell Jamie Collins to get out of his sight?
This is barely better than an outright release. Belichick isn’t just kicking big goofy Alan Branch to the curb on a big-and-goofy charge. This is taking a 27-year-old player who -- 20 months ago -- Belichick was comparing to Lawrence Taylor in terms of versatility and uniqueness and saying, “Yeah, we’re better off without you.”
What message does it send to the other 52 when a guy who commands universal awe in a locker room of supreme athletes is boxed up and left by the curb for pickup by Cleveland?
Just as important, what message is it sending to the defensive coaching staff, and coordinator Matt Patricia in particular, when Belichick feels that -- to get better play -- a rare talent has to be excised because Patricia couldn’t get Collins to play the way Belichick wanted him to?
For Belichick, 7-1 isn’t good enough. An offense capable of hanging 50 on anyone isn’t sufficient to allow him to overlook a defense that -- while allowing under 17 points a game -- is too often giving up explosive plays and chunks of yards to incompetent offenses. It doesn’t look the way he wants it to. There’s a performance standard the Patriots play to that has very little to do with wins and losses and this was confirmation they weren’t close to it.
Is there danger in this decision? Hell yes. As much as with any move since the release of Lawyer Milloy on the eve of the season in 2003.
Even if it wasn’t the intention, Collins looks like a scapegoat now. That won’t be lost on the rest of the defense. More than that, Collins is a quiet kid, well-liked by teammates who -- while never shocked at personnel triggers pulled -- aren’t reacting with a shrug of the shoulders.
Dont'a Hightower is upset about the release of Collins, who he lockered next to and is personally close with. Clearly, the Patriots’ decision can be viewed as “choosing” Hightower as the player they want in their defense for the long haul while Collins was expendable. How’s that sit with Hightower when Collins is so publicly rebuked by this personnel decision?
There’s a coach-player dynamic to watch, as well.
You have a defense that’s absolutely littered with first- and second-round picks that, game after game, sits back in coverage at the behest of the defensive game plan. They’re chained to the porch and then -- when the game ends -- they’re the ones who get hammered for making Landry Jones, Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Tannehill look like Hall of Famers when maybe it’s the passive scheme that’s as much to blame for players underachieving.
There’s a lot of “You don’t know what you don’t know . . . ” clucking from players and coaches when it comes to discussing schemes and performance. But it’s also as complicated as you want to make it.
Having a would-be rocket scientist in Patricia portrayed as some kind of bearded, backward-hatted defensive visionary operating on such a remote intellectual plane that we laypersons can’t grasp his mysterious ways is a crock. Less time worrying about seeing how many hybrid DE/OLBs can dance on the head of a pin, more time bothering the Landry Joneses of the league would probably be a better avenue to the coveted next job than what we’re seeing this season.
Banishing Collins is a calculated risk. A team with a punchless pass rush just removed a transcendent athlete. A team with Hightower as the lone, consistent front-seven playmaker just took away the guy who has a past in which game-changing plays were consistent. He was banished because not only had Collins stopped making those plays, he’d become a liability because of the occasions when he did the wrong things.
I’ve cited the 2015 AFC Championship Game loss to Denver as perfect evidence as to why Collins isn’t here. He got beat in coverage by tight end Owen Daniels for touchdowns not once but TWICE. By a quarterback who couldn’t throw harder than the kid at your local high school. On a day when points were going to be at a premium for the Patriots offense and New England needed its defense to carry it to Super Bowl 50, Collins ruined the game. And how was he the rest of the day? Best defender on the field.
How was Collins in the 27-0 win against Houston? Obscenely good. How’s he been otherwise. Unremarkable.
For those of us capable of housing two simultaneous thoughts in our brains -- and despite Twitter and sports-talk radio, I still believe that’s the majority -- the Collins trade can be both inexplicable and logical. Inexplicable in that removing supreme talents don’t usually make a team better. Logical in that, if the person making the bizarro move has seen a performance bump and increased consistency, focus and performance from his team after similar moves in the past, then one can understand why he’d try it again.
What makes the Collins move so hard to understand is that we’ve become conditioned to believing that drastic times call for drastic measures.
This didn’t feel like a drastic time. How drastic was the measure?
“Jamie Collins -- it’s not exactly like there’s two dozen of them in the draft every year,” Bill Belichick said in December of 2014. “We’re lucky to have one. Was Lawrence Taylor a prototype outside linebacker? Where’s the next Lawrence Taylor? Those guys don’t grown on trees.”
Pretty friggin’ drastic.