The Patriots turned the tables on everyone on Halloween, trading Jamie Collins, one of the team's better defensive players, to the Browns for a third-round compensatory pick that is considered conditional according to the press release from the Browns. According to ESPN, if the Browns don't get that pick from the league, the trade is for a fourth-round pick.
The news, first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN, is an out-of-left-field stunner of a deal. Let's look at six things to know about the Pats moving on from Collins.
1. Stunner of a deal
The Patriots are the best team in football right now. They're 7-1 and Rex Ryan has already conceded the division. Tom Brady is playing some incredible football. This is a team that is head and shoulders above everyone else when it comes to being favored to win the Super Bowl.
Trading Collins, an impressive, versatile linebacker who Bill Belichick can do multiple things with on defense, is a stunner considering it's midseason. That pick from Cleveland doesn't do the Pats any good this year, but it does show that New England isn't a team focused on shoving all in, rather planning for the long haul. It's what good, smart organizations do, although there are questions how the team will respond to the news.
My opinion of Collins' week-to-week impact has been declining and I understand reticence to pay him 50M at end of year. (1 of 2)— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) October 31, 2016
(2 of 2) that said, he's a unique athlete and very highly regarded by teammates. I'm sure reaction in locker room will be one of disbelief— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) October 31, 2016
Plus on the Cleveland side, everyone expected the Browns to be trading away players, not acquiring them. Joe Thomas and Joe Haden were on the trade block, but it's Cleveland bringing in players instead.
2. A new deal
Collins is set to become a free agent this offseason, which could be a large part of the reason why the Patriots ultimately decided to deal him. Collins has put up good numbers in a good defense and was due a big contract.
According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, the Pats were having issues during negotiations.
Source says Patriots were "having a lot of trouble" in negotiations w/ Collins for a long-term contract. Set to be a free agent this spring— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) October 31, 2016
They may have seen it as a fait acompli to letting Collins walk, so they made the decision to deal for a pick in the upcoming draft rather than waiting for 2018 to get one.
The Browns have ample cap space -- well over $50 million according to NFLPA records -- which means they can fairly easily ink Collins to a new deal. They also have the option of using the franchise tag on the linebacker and then trying to hammer out a deal. Or if all else fails, they can let him walk and get a 2018 compensatory pick of their own.
3. Sending a message
There's also a factor here that shouldn't go unnoticed. Belichick isn't afraid to send a message. What he had in Collins was a player who was being a pain in terms of negotiation -- Volin also reported Monday that Collins turned down $11 million per year from New England -- and a guy who apparently wasn't doing what the coaches asked him to do on defense.
Collins on the second play of the game does whatever he wants and Bills gain 28 yards. Been happening all year. It was not going to continue— michael lombardi (@mlombardifoxtv) October 31, 2016
That is the opposite of "Do your job" and it's something Belichick isn't going to tolerate.
4. Browns building a base
For Cleveland this is a smart move, regardless of the fact that dealing with Bill Belichick almost always blows up in your face. The Browns roster is bereft of talent and they just dealt a third-round pick in exchange for a 26-year-old linebacker who is incredibly versatile. And apparently excited about going to Cleveland.
Talked to Bus Cook, agent for new #Browns LB Jamie Collins: "I spoke to him. He's excited about getting over there."— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 31, 2016
Bus Cook, Jamie Collins agent: "The thinking is, if they don't want me, go someplace that does." Collins knows the records. Still OK with it— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 31, 2016
It stands to reason that Cleveland would've been interested in Collins during free agency anyway, but now it acquires a player without having to go up against other teams in negotiations (where Cleveland, even with all the money, doesn't have a great advantage in terms of appeal outside of cold, hard cash). The Browns can lock down Collins before he hits the market and potentially save some coin on the deal by negotiating ahead of time.
And, again, they get a young talented player. That's smart use of a draft pick.
"We are always looking for ways to improve our roster by acquiring talent and the trade deadline sometimes grants you that opportunity," Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said. "Jamie Collins is a talented-tough-young-playmaker that our coaches and personnel staff think can be a great fit for our defense. We feel really good about being able to add him to our team and look forward to getting him into our building and having him work with our coaches."
5. Dealing comp picks
This should be the first time ever we've seen a compensatory pick traded, as this is the first year teams are allowed to trade those. Except the Browns don't even have the compensatory pick that they're trading, because comp picks for the upcoming draft haven't been awarded yet. Hence, the clarification that the trade will net the Patriots a fourth-round pick if the league doesn't award the third-round compensatory pick.
It's a safe bet, considering Cleveland didn't sign anyone of note other than Robert Griffin III in free agency, and considering they lost Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz to big deals elsewhere, that they'll get a third-round pick in return.
That pick will be in the 95-overall range and head to the Patriots instead now.
6. Big names out the door
The other notable thing from the Patriots perspective here? How quickly they moved on from former high draft picks. Chandler Jones was their No. 1 pick in 2011, and he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. Collins was their top pick the next year (a second-round pick) and he was moved to Cleveland.
And yet New England keeps on collecting everyone else's first-round picks.
Dont'a Hightower, the other first-round pick from 2011, is also going to command a big contract this offseason. It's very possible the Patriots would just rather pay him instead.