FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the most disappointing things that can happen after a player is traded is when previously undisclosed information comes to the forefront to make the player look bad in an attempt to justify the swap.
At the same time, when there is an unexpected trade, such as the one that unfolded Monday when the New England Patriots shipped linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns in a move that shook up parts of the Pats' locker room, it leads to more probing to hopefully learn what led to the decision.
Through conversations with players and additional reporting, a few thoughts and notes emerged to form what I believe were the primary factors that sparked the Pats' decision to trade Collins:
2016 was the end of the road. Bill Belichick had concluded that the Patriots and Collins were headed for a split after the season; this is the final year of Collins' contract. This trade accelerated the process to extinguish a potentially volatile situation down the road.
Economics were partly a catalyst for the split. Piecing together some nuggets of reported information can help provide possible context on why the sides were headed for a split.
Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported that Collins turned down $11 million per season from the Patriots.
While Collins' agent is on record as saying, "We never got into any real serious discussions," that is likely because both sides were so far apart when initial contract concepts were broached that there was no reason to negotiate further. This is a common negotiating tactic from the Patriots, to dip their toe in the water to get a sense of the contract landscape with a player, which can affect the team's future personnel planning.
In negotiations, it is generally understood that both sides will come in a bit higher or lower than where they're projected to end up, but when the gap is that wide initially, it usually doesn't end well (see Wes Welker).
Performance has been inconsistent. Collins was remarkable in the team's Week 3 shutout of the Houston Texans, with a team-high 14 tackles and an interception. But he also struggled in other games, particularly against the run, which led to the coaching staff's decision to limit his role Sunday against the Bills. Collins was taken off the field in what would be considered running situations, ultimately playing just 48 of 78 snaps. That was unusual for him, because he's normally a three-down player, and while Patriots' coaches sung Collins' praises Tuesday, their actions ultimately spoke louder than words. Collins was now viewed by them as a part-time player, as his inconsistency had reached a point that led to a reduced role.
With Super Bowl hopes in mind, why not play out the year? Many have asked why the Patriots would trade Collins in the middle of the season when they are 7-1 and Super Bowl contenders. From a purely on-the-field, football perspective, subtracting Collins, whom many in the locker room view as their most athletically gifted defender, doesn't make sense.
But one thing coaches consider is culture and how not every player responds the same way when he feels undervalued or that he is being used in a limited role. Some players can respond negatively, which can influence others. One could envision the Patriots feeling there was a risk of this happening, if it hadn't happened already.
Others who have played with Collins shared a viewpoint that because he is so athletically gifted, perhaps he hasn't always had to grind as hard as others. In the Patriots' culture, which stresses everyone pulling in the same direction, that would stand out.
At the same time, other teammates saw a player who was described as fully engaged. Meanwhile, as Collins' agent said to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Collins is excited to be part of a franchise he feels wants him.
Piecing it all together, the sense is that the sides had been gradually growing apart.
Belichick doesn't elaborate with players either. One player close to Collins was emotional about the trade, saying the hardest part is not knowing why he was traded. That reflects the shock that was felt in some, but not all, corners of the locker room. In addressing players Tuesday, Belichick, who has the final say in these matters, essentially told them the same thing he told reporters: that he made the decision in the best interest of the team.
While players such as cornerback Malcolm Butler expressed their surprise at the deal, others weren't as taken aback, because Collins was viewed as a bit more distant and private compared with other teammates. Some reporters covering the Patriots had a similar experience, and Collins is seldom, if ever, around during the media-access period for interviews. He's maybe conducted three interviews all year.