“All who wander are not lost.” – Tattoo on the wrist of the woman working the register at my local gas station yesterday. Also, probably a quote from Harry Potter or some such thing like that.
There is nothing Jamie Collins did in the 30 months since being exiled from the Patriots to make anyone think the team was mistaken when it shipped him out.
Since he was dealt away on Halloween of 2016, the Patriots (who were 7-1 at the time) have been to three Super Bowls and won two. Their defense — while not perfect — has been a whole lot better without him. Especially last year when Stephon Gilmore flourished, Dont'a Hightower was healthy and — most importantly — Brian Flores took over for Matt Patricia.
Collins went to Cleveland and was the defensive centerpiece of a team that went 7-32-1 during his tenure. That’s not all on him. The team was a full-on embarrassment. But he also didn’t remind anyone of Mike Singletary during his time there. He missed 10 games in 2017 and the entire playoffs (which the Browns weren’t in, having gone 0-16). He did have a productive season in 2018 with 104 tackles.
He also made nearly $27M from the four-year, $50M deal he signed in January of 2017. The Browns released Collins in March to clear $9.25M of cap space and now the Patriots have decided to bring him back.
So far, this has very much been a win-win scenario for the two sides. The Patriots traded Collins for a third-round pick, helped use that pick to trade for Brandin Cooks and didn’t miss a beat without Collins. In fact, they improved. Collins got the money he coveted.
Actually, he went from one of the most underpaid players in the league to one of its most overpaid. The money was the root of all his problems in New England. He felt taken advantage of and — when he got to the point he felt the Patriots were stringing him along — he disengaged somewhat.
On the second play of his final game with the Patriots, Collins went tear-assing through a gap in the Bills offensive line. LeSean McCoy ran through Collins' vacated spot for a huge gain. He barely played after that and was dealt a day later.
Clearly, a message was sent when the deal was made. And the Patriots responded.
So how will Collins respond to his exile and a chance to start all over at what will likely be a fraction of what he was making in Cleveland? Maybe he should ask Patrick Chung’s advice.
Just like Collins in 2013, Chung was a second-round pick in 2009. When Chung got to his contract year in 2012, his play dipped. He seemed to gamble much more and was often on the scene when bad things happened. The Patriots let him walk in free agency. Chung signed with the Eagles for three years and $10M and lasted just one season. He returned to the Patriots in 2014, Bill Belichick claimed some of the blame for Chung not performing up to capability, Chung turned into one of the team’s best defenders and now — thanks to his second tenure — is one of the best safeties the franchise has ever had.
Chung wandered. Came back. Found himself.
Can Collins do the same? When he was here, he was trending toward an All-Pro level but — at critical times — would seize up. Collins remains the guy who watched Denver tight end Owen Daniels walk past him twice for first-half touchdowns in the 2015 AFCCG then was best defender on the field for the rest of the game.
He’ll turn 30 in October. He had enough athleticism for two players when he left; that won’t be an issue. With Jerod Mayo now a linebackers coach, Collins would be reunited with both he and Dont’a Hightower — both excellent guys to work alongside — and would join Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Whaun Bentley in the room.
If Collins can follow the same path back to the Patriots that Chung did, that’s a huge win for this team.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.