By Sterling Pingree
We’ve heard a lot of theories as to why the Patriots traded Jamie Collins to the Browns for a conditional 3rd round pick. We’re heard that his effort hasn’t been there this season. We’ve heard that his freelancing on the defense has exasperated coaches and has cost the Patriots defense big plays. We heard that Collins was asking for “Von Miller money” (6 years-$114.5 million with $70 million guaranteed) and negotiations were going nowhere as Collins heads to free agency this off season. The narrative of regret from people who think the trade is poorly timed and may keep the Patriots from winning a 5th Super Bowl in the Brady-Belichick era is that “Collins is an athletic freak.” The truth generally lays somewhere in the medium, which is where I think it resides in this case as well.
I am an avid consumer of football. I watch games, I listen to podcasts, I read articles, I spend an inordinate amount of time just thinking about Patriots games, match ups and the legacy of Tom Brady. This is something that I’ve developed however, I didn’t grow up in a school district that had football. (Though I was recruited my junior year during basketball season to transfer to a school that did so I could play football my senior year. I didn’t, I regret it, but I think there’s very little chance of me, even at 6’2, 220 lbs, having been very good.) What this means is that as much as I watch and understand football from the perspective as a fan, I don’t understand football in a deeper perspective where I can understand nuances.
Here’s an example of what I mean: Aaron Dobson looked like a possible pro bowl receiver when the Patriots drafted him out of Marshall. Dobson could run with anybody, out jump most corners, he had terrific hands and who doesn’t remember his ridiculous highlight catches he made in college. What happened with Dobson? He showed flashes during preseason but when the regular season would come around he was generally M.I.A or he under performed. Why is this? He was an athletic freak who appeared to have all the tools to be great, but we could calculate with offensive statistics (or in this case, the lack thereof) that his performance wasn’t as good as other players on the offense so it wasn’t surprising when he was cut this year.
Example #2: Jamie Collins comes to the Patriots as an undersized defensive end who can play linebacker. The line on him is that he has good hands and outstanding athletic ability. He makes super athletic plays like the time he box jumped over the Colts line and blocked an extra point. But the question is, within the confines of a defense, does being a freakish athlete necessarily equate to being a productive member of the defense? It certainly helps, but there has to be a case that a player who has all the athletic gifts in the world, could be a less than great defensive player. Because defensive players play without the ball what they do seems reactionary, it would make sense that above average athletic gifts would be a benefit, but do we know that a player like Collins is a more productive player than say 6th round draft choice Elandon Roberts? If Roberts understands the playbook and tackles better than Collins (I’m not saying he does) but Collins is faster in the open field and can vault special team’s snaps, which is the more productive player? The perception would say that Collins is better than Roberts because his abilities are great, but I wonder if someone astute at breaking down film would say the same thing. I’m always amazed when I heard coaches and players speak more candidly about players that jump out at them when they watch film, because it’s rarely the guys who in 2016 have the most Retweeted highlights.
The loss of Jamie Collins will be felt for sure, but what I’m not sure of is that a reasonable amount of his defensive production can’t be masked by personnel but more importantly by the overall scheme. Bill Simmons uses the Ewing Theory to explain the phenomenon of teams getting better when they lose a great or franchise player. Where I don’t think that Jamie Collins quite qualifies in this area, it’s not unheard of for great players to leave teams, only to see teams take their play to a new level. The term is “In Bill We Trust” and this week that saying has been used to describe a blind faith in “The Patriot Way.” Based off of the preceding’s in this article and the past 16 years, it seems obvious that I’m subscribing to that theory as well, but what I’m trusting in Bill is his ability to evaluate what makes a defensive player valuable, because as you can also tell from the proceedings is that I’m quite sure, I do not know.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree) is a co-host weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.