I worried that I wouldn’t have anything new to write about with the Patriots on bye week, sitting nicely atop the league at 7-1. Aside from saying the usual “they need to keep up the good work but improve slightly on defense,” I wasn’t sure I had anything else to say. But, alas, we just can’t have a nice, quiet bye week here in New England. Just last week, Belichick and the Patriots gifted the Browns with Jamie Collins and me with my article topic, though I’m not sure that this is as big of a win in my case as it is in Cleveland’s case.
All Cleveland had to give up to get the athletic Collins was a third round compensatory pick, which is pretty much exactly what the Patriots would have received had Collins left in free agency, albeit for 2018, not 2017. Still, is a one year difference on a third-round pick enough to trade a potential Pro Bowl linebacker in the middle of a Super Bowl contending season?
On the surface it’s an emphatic no. But, in case anyone forgot, Bill Belichick is way smarter than even all of us world-beaters here at Holy Cross. However, like any mad scientist, he doesn’t often reveal his methods to the public, so we are all forced to speculate as to why he makes certain moves.
In this case, I see three possible explanations behind Belichick’s most recent “I can’t believe he just did that” move. The first, and most reasonable, possibility is that Collins was becoming a problem in the locker room. Belichick historically deals with problem players in one way—he gets rid of them (or they murder three people and get arrested, that happens sometimes too). Though it might be unfair to assume bad things about Collins just because he got traded, it would make a lot of sense.
The second possible explanation is that Collins simply isn’t as positive of a player as we all thought. Though he is about as athletic as they come and certainly had the potential to be one of the best defenders in the league, perhaps Belichick thought he was not reaching that potential. Perhaps Belichick worried he relied too much on his athleticism and not enough on the “system.” A defensive player in it to make plays for himself is not someone Belichick wants on his team. Blitzing the wrong hole or not playing assignment football can look fine to us average fans on Sunday, but is not something that Belichick is going to like at all on film Monday morning. Who knows, Belichick may even have a montage of plays in which the defensive scheme was perfect, but Collins messed it up with a selfish play.
Another important aspect to consider is that the Patriots only got a third-round pick. Why did no team value Collins higher? If he really is as good as we all think he is, then surely he would command a first-round pick or even a player such as Joe Thomas. Clearly, those who actually evaluate players for a living all saw the same value for Collins, a third-round pick, one round worse than his actual draft selection.
However, it is possible that Belichick didn’t shop around as much and only wanted to send Collins to a bad team (that would offer less in return knowing he wouldn’t resign) to either make sure that he wouldn’t be helping a competing team or to send a message.
There was a satirical article—not from the critically-acclaimed Eggplant, unfortunately—that said Belichick called a team meeting and said “Jamie Collins wanted more money. Now he’s in Cleveland…Anyone else want more money?” I didn’t realize it was fake until it said that Devin McCourty stood up and, just to be safe, asked for less money. Like most satire, it was funny, but there was a lot of truth to it. The only real difference between that article and reality is that Belichick didn’t need to hold the team meeting; his message, once again, was sent loud and clear. Whatever Collins’ sin was—whether it be wanting more money, or not playing within the team system, or being a problem in the locker room—you better believe that the other players do not want to do the same because I can imagine few things worse than going to bed on the Super Bowl contending Patriots and waking up on the bottom-feeding Cleveland Browns.
In the end, we will never know the true reasons for Collins’ trade. Belichick is Colonel Jessep and we can’t handle the truth. We weep for Collins and we curse Belichick. We have that luxury, of not knowing what Belichick knows—that Collins’ trade, while tragic, probably wins games, and Belichick’s existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to us, wins football games. We don’t want the truth because deep down in places we don’t talk about at parties, we want Belichick making that trade—we need Belichick making that trade.
Belichick use words like “the Patriot Way” and “Do Your Job.” He uses these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. And Belichick has neither the time nor the inclination to explain himself to fans who rise and sleep under the blanket of the very success he provides and then questions the manner in which he provides it. He would rather that we just said “thank you” and went on our way. (Note—if you don’t like that conclusion to the article, then blame Aaron Sorkin, not me. But if you like it, then I totally came up with it on my own)