Poor Jamie Collins? Think again

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New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins (91) gains 13 yards after an interception in the 2nd quarter defended by Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry (14) during the NFL week 2 football game on Sunday, Sept 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Mass. The Patriots defeated the Dolphins 31-24.

Jim Mahoney, Associated Press

New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins (91) gains 13 yards after an interception in the Sept. 16 game against the Miami Dolphins in Foxboro, Mass. The Patriots defeated the Dolphins 31-24.

In early 2013, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick took a trip to south Mississippi to do a speaking engagement for his good friend Ray Perkins when Perkins was the coach at Jones Junior College in Ellisville.

Belichick decided to multi-task and made a side trip to Hattiesburg, where he worked out Southern Miss linebacker Jamie Collins for two hours one-on-one. Belichick most assuredly liked what he saw. Later that spring, the Patriots made Collins their first pick of the NFL Draft in the second round.

The Patriots have been abundantly rewarded.

Collins, a remarkably gifted athlete from the tiny community of McCall Creek in southwest Mississippi, has started 41 of his 50 games, totaling 285 career tackles, 10.5 sacks, five interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, one defensive touchdown and one blocked extra point. That’s all. He played in the Pro Bowl last year and played every snap of the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX victory. He led the Pats in tackles in that Super Bowl and in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He is generally rated as one of the 10 best linebackers in the NFL.

That’s what makes Monday’s news so stunning. The Patriots traded Collins to the win-less Cleveland Browns for a future third-round draft choice. They did what?

Rick Cleveland

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

Yes, they did. It sounds like an April Fool’s story, but it was a Halloween shocker. And it was typical Belichick when you really look at it. Collins becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season. Belichick doesn’t want to pay him what he knows Collins will bring on the free agent market. Belichick figures he’ll just make another side trip to another college and find someone else to plug in for Jamie Collins.

Belichick has done this many times before. Do the names Deion Branch, Richard Seymour and Randy Moss ring a bell? Those three – and many more – became Super Bowl winning stars at New England and then were cast off because the Patriots didn’t want to pay them.

Tom Brady makes $20.5 million a year for the Patriots. Nobody else is even close.

So, Collins goes from a Super Bowl contender to the lowly Browns, and, at first glance you say, “Poor Jamie Collins.”

No, he is about to be rich, rich Jamie Collins. His original contract, negotiated by Hattiesburg-based agent Bus Cook, called for an average of about $940,000 over his first four seasons before he could become an unrestricted free agent.

He is about to add some zeroes.

The Cleveland Browns did not make this trade planning to keep Collins for just the rest of this season and then let him go. They made this trade to make Collins the cornerstone of their defense and have said as much.

They have more than $50 million in salary cap room. They have stockpiled early draft choices. They have the opportunity to get better quickly and it looks like they plan to do it with defense.

The Browns will have three choices after this season: 1) sign Collins to a long-term contract, 2) tag him as their franchise player for one year, for a salary of close to $15 million, or 3) let him go elsewhere, which they’ve already said they don’t plan to do. Remember, if the Browns “franchise” him next year, he still becomes a free agent after the 2017 season, $15 million richer.

A Pro Bowl linebacker of Collins’ immense talents could bring a multi-year contract of well over $12 million a year.

Poor Jamie Collins?

Collins, just turned 27 and entering the prime of his career, is already in Cleveland, preparing for this week’s game with Dallas. Cook said he called Collins Monday expecting to have to console him.

“Jamie didn’t need any consoling,” Cook said. “He said, ‘I’m fine. This is my job. I play football and if they didn’t want to pay me, I didn’t want to be there. I’m a grown man. I’m going to do my job.”

He is about to get paid a lot, lot more for doing it.

Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.