Trade shows Browns front office wants to build a winner

The Cleveland Browns showed that they are serious about the rebuilding process by trading for Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins.

The Cleveland Browns found a positive way to abrupt World Series sports talk Monday afternoon when they struck on a blockbuster trade with the New England Patriots.

The deal brings to Cleveland Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins in return for a compensatory third-round pick in the 2017 draft. If the Browns do not receive any compensatory picks then they will surrender a fourth-round selection.

The potential downside of the trade is that Collins is on the final year of his rookie contract, meaning he can be a free agent at the end of the season. Multiple reports have said that Collins will be looking for a similar deal to the one that Von Miller signed with the Denver Broncos, which included $70 million in guaranteed money.

The Browns have the cap space to do that kind of deal, but it remains to be seen if eight games is long enough for head coach Hue Jackson to sell Collins on the idea of being part of the current rebuilding plan.

Collins, 27, is in his fourth season with the Patriots after being drafted in the second round (52nd overall) in 2013 out of Southern Mississippi. The trade may come as a culture shock to Collins, going from a perennial Super Bowl contender to the only winless team in football. However, during his senior season at Southern Mississippi the team finished 0-12, so Collins has played for a losing team before and has still produced at a high level.

Collins is a dynamic, potential every-down linebacker that is versatile enough to play inside and outside. For the Patriots he predominantly was used as a middle linebacker.

Last season Collins had his best pro season as he was named to the 2015 Pro Bowl and was named a second team All Pro. Collins emerged as a top linebacker in Bill Belichick’s defensive system and became the face of the Patriots defense after leading the Patriots in tackles in both 2014 and 2015.

Prior to the start of this season, Pro Football Focus ranked him as the top linebacker in the AFC. Collins is regarded around the league as a top talent at the linebacker position, and is in the conversation with other stars like Luke Kuechly and NaVorro Bowman for the top spot.

Sashi Brown and the Browns front office should receive a lot of credit for pulling off this trade as the NFL trade deadlines arrives today at 4 p.m. As everyone already knows, the Browns are in season one of a complete roster and organization rebuild and the results have backed that up. The Browns remain the one winless team in the NFL with an 0-8 record and have shown severe talent deficentcies on both sides of the ball.

The addition of a star linebacker in the prime of his career immediately gives the defensive unit a center piece to build around. For years the Browns have lacked a talented front seven unit and the new front office has taken steps to address the trenches.

The trade proves the Browns are not in “tank” mode or selling mode, but are actively trying to improve the roster in any way possible. Despite this year’s record, the front office saw the opportunity to potentially upgrade the team for the next several seasons as they look to build for the future. While many media members expected the Browns to be shopping their big name players, such as Joe Thomas and Joe Haden, the Browns were buyers and improved their roster.

The value they payed in return of Collins was a steal as the team still has the most draft picks in the 2017 draft. If talent and value match the team need for the Browns, the new front office will be active in trying to improve the roster in the best way possible.

The Browns have ranked poorly in rushing defense for years and their plan to build a winning defense began this off-season with the free agent signing of linebacker Demario Davis. The veteran Davis has been ranked highly by Pro Football Focus against the run and has served as a great leader for the young defense.

The team continued their need for front seven help by drafting two edge players in rounds two and three this past draft in Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib. Both rookies have shown positive signs in their ability to play multiple positions along the defensive line and have shown their natural pass-rushing ability.

Additionally, second-year nose tackle Danny Shelton looks to be the most improved player on the roster from a season ago and is playing at a very high level, especially against the run. Pro Football Focus grades Shelton with an accumulative grade of 82.6, which ranks among the top nose tackles in the league.

Collins may play alongside Christian Kirksey in the middle of the defense. Kirksey, who is in his third season, leads the team in tackles with 72 at the midway point of the season. Kirksey has steadily improved in his time with the team and has developed into a solid tackling machine.

Kirksey also gives the Browns versatility as he played some outside linebacker his rookie year. The coaching staff will now have options on how to line up Kirksey, Davis and Collins depending on schemes and situations.

Now with the addition of Collins, a proven star linebacker, it gives the defense a center piece in the middle to build around. Collins ranks among the best against the run playing in the middle, but also has the pass-rushing tools to come off the edge. Expect defensive coordinator Ray Horton to play to the strengths of Collins and line him up all over the field and truly use him as a jack-of-all trades linebacker. In rushing situations, Collins will be in the middle sniffing out the run, and in passing situations he will work of the edge and generate a pass rush.

The Browns front office has quickly assembled a solid core of front seven players to build around. The defensive line features Shelton, Nassib and Ogbah, and promising linebackers Kirksey and now Collins. The Browns just need to add a few more pieces and continue to develop the players to have the makings of a solid defensive unit.

Although Collins is a free agent at the end of the season, the Browns made a low-risk, high-reward type deal. Collins is a superstar linebacker in his prime that will give the defense a playmaker it simply didn’t have before.

Hopefully the Browns and Collins will reach a contract extension before he becomes a free agent, but if not the Browns can use the franchise tag in the off-season to keep him for the 2017 season.

Ultimately, the team paid a small price for a proven difference maker that will help transform the defense and jumpstart the rebuild process.

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