Jamie Collins Sr.
Bill Belichick is cold-blooded and cruel, but that's why he's great
Jamie Collins Sr.

Bill Belichick is cold-blooded and cruel, but that's why he's great

Published Nov. 15, 2016 1:47 p.m. ET

Pretty much everything in the public sphere can be placed in two camps: public relations or economics. This breakdown is particularly obvious in the NFL.

It's fair to say that the quality of the league's product has diminished for at least this season — you're seeing it — but despite the downturn, one team has looked well above the rest.

That's because Patriots coach and de facto general manager Bill Belichick knows that public relations and all the emotions that go along with it — loyalty, sentiment, perhaps even love — get in the way of winning football games.


Leave that stuff in the college game. Whether anyone else wants to admit it, the NFL is straight economics. Each team has the same amount of money to spend on 53 players, and the team that can manage that spending best — and capitalize in all the areas where spending won't necessarily bring quality: game planning, scouting, player development  — will win.

Belichick has believed this for decades, but the disparity between his cold, professorial demeanor and the rest of the league has never been more obvious. 

Monday was the perfect example of Belichick's ruthless approach.

Jamie Collins might be the best defensive player in the NFL not named Von Miller. The Southern Miss product is one of the truly great athletes in American sports — a freelancing linebacker who is just as adept in coverage as he was rushing the quarterback or stuffing a gap. Having Collins on the field opened up a world of possibilities for Belichick, who is still a defensive coordinator a heart, and Patriots DC, Matt Patricia.

Collins might have been the most valuable player on the Patriots' defense — he should have been considered a serious candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

Monday, Belichick traded him to Cleveland for a third-round draft pick.

The rationale for the move was simple — Collins, whose rookie contract expires at the end of this season, was reportedly asking for fair market value for his services and Belichick wasn't going to budget that into his ledger. The coach and general manager had a number in mind, Collins wanted more, and Belichick didn't flinch in making the prudent, economic decision and selling the asset high. 

That's all football players are to Belichick — assets. 

There were many who were shocked by the move — Collins for a third-round pick, mid-season? — but those people don't know the drill. This was Belichick at his most Belichickian — even the possible, if not probable, dip in his team's play this season didn't deter him from doing the smart thing and maximizing value from what he had determined to be a disposable asset. (Though, to be fair, the gap between the Patriots and the rest of the league is such that Belichick might be looking to challenge himself by moving his best defensive player.)

Fans want love and loyalty, but what they really want are wins, and in the NFL those are opposing ideals. Other teams will spend big money on popular players to prove to those fans that "they mean business" and that they're "making the commitment to winning." Look at the Colts, who said they spent too much on Andrew Luck to put a good team around him, or the Saints, who have been stuck in neutral because of their over-the-top patronage of Drew Brees — but they're really just making a crowd-pleasing decision in the micro that will more often than not have big macro consequences. They're playing the public relations game when they need to be thinking about economics.

Whether the phrasing is identical or not, Belichick figured out the secret long ago: Sentiment is for losers. 

All he's done for the past 17 years is put that belief into action. It seems to be working out well.

Tom Brady is a well-paid, but do you think for a second if the quarterback's play started to decline, Belichick wouldn't move him? The man just moved one of the best defensive players in the league and the linchpin of the Patriots' defense to Cleveland for a third-round pick because he wanted big money. Why do you think Brady has gone crazy over self-preservation in recent years? Belichick has put the fear of God into him.

Belichick has been so pragmatic and cold with his economics over the past 17 years that he was probably insulted Collins came to the table with that big-money ask. Did he know whom he was dealing with?

But Belichick wins. And while the reasons for that go far beyond his handling of the salary cap — this was a man who once made Nick Saban nearly break from overwork, the Alabama coach called the time working for Belichick in Cleveland "the most difficult four years of my life" — there's no doubt that his steely demeanor, long-term thinking, and that economics degree from Wesleyan University have been major components of that incredible success.

If you need another reminder, you can ask Collins how he's liking Cleveland in a few weeks.


Jamie Collins Sr.
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