Return of ‘Freak Athlete’ to Patriots Unlikely Without Vet Minimum Deal: Report

Getty Bill Belichick

The New England Patriots still have a rather distinguished group of free agents who haven’t re-signed or latched on with other teams.

Some of them have played their final game with the Patriots, while a few could return if the price and timing are right. According to Mass Live’s Chris Mason, linebacker Jamie Collins is one of those guys.

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Collins Could Return on a Veteran Minimum Deal: Report

Mason still thinks a ton of Collins as an overall athlete but recognizes the aging linebacker might have to agree to a smaller, short-term deal if he wants to return to the Patriots in 2022.

“The 32-year-old Collins doesn’t check the ‘younger’ box at linebacker, but he remains a freak athlete,” Mason wrote. “If Collins wants to play on a veteran minimum deal he could make sense to bring into training camp, but any higher price and the Patriots will likely move on.”

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According to Spotrac, a player with Collins’ level of service in the NFL (nine years experience) would make $1.12 million in 2022 on a veteran-minimum deal. That’s a smidge more than the one-year, $1.075 million deal he signed with the Patriots in 2021, but likely less than he might be able to get with another team in need of an edge rusher with Collins’ experience.

Would Collins Fit in With a Quicker Linebacker Group in New England?

The Patriots have seemingly made a point to get faster at the linebacker–and on defense in general–this offseason. While Collins is still a good athlete, he likely won’t have the sort of sideline-to-sideline speed the team might covet these days.

However, his knowledge of the Patriots’ system thanks to playing parts of six seasons in Foxborough, could still be very valuable. It would appear Patriots’ de facto general manager and head coach Bill Belichick is fond of Collins.

He has signed off on the veteran linebacker embarking on three stints with the team. Collins has made one Pro Bowl with the Patriots and been a part of two of the organization’s six Super Bowl championships. In 2021, Collins played in 10 games. He started 2 of them, made one interception, and recorded a sack with 20 total tackles.

Collins has been durable his entire career with the 2017 season with the Cleveland Browns as the only exception. That year, Collins missed 10 games. It’s the only season of the Southern Miss grad’s career when he missed more than 5 games in a campaign.

While Collins’ availability may not be a major concern, the Patriots might still consider replacing him with younger options.

What Might Be Coming Down the Pipeline at Linebacker?

Some Patriots fans might have forgotten about Anfernee Jennings. The Patriots selected him in the 2020 NFL Draft in the third round. He played in 14 games as a rookie and started in four of those contests.

Jennings made 20 tackles but didn’t secure a spot in the regular rotation as he saw action on just 386 total snaps between defense and special teams. Jennings missed all of 2021 with an injury, but the hope is that the Alabama alum can return in 2022 and make an impact on what the Patriots hope will be a more athletic defense.

Jennings will need to impress in a major way to prove he is capable of taking the spot of Collins or any other prospective veteran competition, but New England didn’t select him 87th overall in 2020 because they didn’t believe in his talent.

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