New England looked as dominant as ever in Sunday’s blowout win over Buffalo (ironically, the Bills are the only team they’ve lost to this year), but the latest news out of Foxboro makes no sense. Sending Jamie Collins, PFF’s No. 1 4-3 outside linebacker this year, to the Browns for a compensatory third-rounder is a head-scratcher if there ever was one.
Yes, Collins is headed for free agency and the Patriots weren’t going to overpay for his services. But New England was going to get a compensatory pick if Collins left anyway. Why would the Patriots willingly part ways with arguably the league’s most versatile outside linebacker? De facto GM Bill Belichick has a history of making surprising moves, but trading Collins for chump change seems like an unnecessary risk for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
The Patriots have become famous for making out-of-nowhere trades and the Collins swap seems to fall in line with that strategy. Usually when this happens, there’s more than meets the eye. For example, Chandler Jones, who was also entering the last year of his contract, was shipped to Arizona this past offseason in exchange for offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper (now a Cleveland Brown) and a second-round pick.
Getting something in return for Jones, a likely free agent casualty, was an underlying factor but not the only reason he was banished to the desert. Jones was involved in an embarrassing incident two months prior to his New England departure, showing up to a local police station shirtless and high on synthetic marijuana. Known for being a no-nonsense franchise, Jones’ off-field mischief (though legal in the state of Massachusetts) gave the Pats a good excuse to move on from him. Similarly, the Patriots cut bait on former first-round pick Dominique Easley, a player that an anonymous teammate once called a “locker room cancer.”
There’s been no evidence to suggest Collins was a distraction inside the Patriots’ locker room, though he did draw a clear line in the sand when it came to contract talks. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Collins was looking for a contract in the range of Von Miller’s landmark six-year, $114.5 million extension. Rather than accommodate his expensive request, the Pats shipped their disgruntled linebacker to the worst team in football.
The trade paves the way for impressive rookie Elandon Roberts to be an every-down player for New England. It also frees up enough cap space to sign contract-year linebacker Dont’a Hightower to a long-term deal. The savings could also go toward keeping Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, who is headed for restricted free agency after the season.
New England’s offense has been borderline unstoppable since Tom Brady’s return in Week 5, so perhaps the Collins trade won’t make much of a difference. But let’s be reminded that two of the last three Super Bowl winners—the Broncos in 2015 and the Seahawks in 2013—featured elite defenses. The 2014 Pats were no slouches either with Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, Jones, Collins and Hightower all playing important roles.
Only time will tell if this is another genius Belichick maneuver or a critical misstep for a team that may be nearing the end of its championship window. As RotoPat was quick to point out, Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger.
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Bears Upset Vikings on MNF
Halloween night in Chicago was full of tricks, but not many treats for fantasy owners. Fresh off a disastrous game against Green Bay in Week 7, expectations were pretty low for Jordan Howard heading into Week 8. In ESPN leagues, only 19.6 percent of owners had the courage to insert Howard into their starting lineups.
Those who took the plunge were rewarded handsomely. Howard enjoyed the game of his life, turning 26 carries into 153 yards and one touchdown while guiding the Bears to a surprising 20-10 victory over the Vikings. Howard also tallied four catches for 49 yards. Both were career-highs.
There were plenty of reasons not to start Howard on Monday night. For starters, Minnesota entered Monday having allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game. On top of that, Howard was out-touched by Ka’Deem Carey in Week 7 and faced another roadblock Monday with Jeremy Langford (ankle) returning from a four-week absence. Howard was listed as the starter but coach John Fox’s “hot hand” mentality offered few assurances.
Despite the uncertainty heading into Monday night, Howard operated as a true feature back, logging 30 touches compared to only two for Carey and one for Langford. Howard’s 69-yard burst on the Bears’ opening drive was the team’s longest play from scrimmage this year.
Aside from Howard’s contributions, the Bears also got a lift from Alshon Jeffery, who ended a seven-game touchdown drought with an 11-yard score to open the third quarter. Jeffery had a tough matchup against Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes but still managed four catches for 63 yards. Jay Cutler didn’t stuff the stat sheet in his return from a thumb injury, but he kept the offense moving with 252 yards on 31 attempts. Zach Miller also did his part, chipping in with a game-high 88 yards on seven catches. The 88 yards were his most in a game since Week 10 of last season.
Minnesota’s offense struggled for the second week in a row as Sam Bradford (23-for-37, 228 yards, one TD, five sacks) had little time to throw behind the Vikings’ porous offensive line. Matt Asiata struggled as well, earning just 42 yards on 14 carries. He added two catches for 36 yards. Asiata was filling in for Jerick McKinnon, who is week to week with an ankle injury.
Stefon Diggs was a bright spot for Minnesota, hauling in eight catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. Diggs’ return to form must come as a welcome sight to fantasy owners. He had mostly been dormant over the previous three weeks, averaging a mere 35 yards per game with no touchdowns during that span. Diggs is now on pace for over 1,000 yards, a threshold no Vikings receiver has reached since 2009. The Vikings have dropped their last two games after beginning the year 5-0, but still lead the division by a game over the Packers.
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Quick Hits: Andre Johnson announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday. The 14-year veteran will finish his career ninth all-time in receptions (1,062) and 10th in receiving yards (14,185). He’s the Texans’ all-time leader in both categories … Bills coach Rex Ryan is “hopeful” LeSean McCoy (hamstring) will return to practice on Thursday. McCoy missed Buffalo’s loss to New England in Week 8 but could be back in action Monday night against Seattle … When asked about his status for Week 9, Lorenzo Alexander said “we’ll see.” The NFL sacks leader injured his hamstring early in Sunday’s loss to New England … The Chiefs are now claiming that Alex Smith did not suffer a concussion in Week 8. His re-entry into the game after getting hit by Colts linebacker Edwin Jackson in the first quarter has raised questions about the league’s concussion protocol … Jacquizz Rodgers was seen wearing a walking boot on his sprained foot on Monday. His status is in doubt for Thursday’s game against Atlanta. In his absence, the Bucs will likely turn to a three-man committee featuring Antone Smith, Peyton Barber and Mike James … Jacob Tamme hurt his shoulder against the Packers in Week 8 and has already been ruled out for Thursday’s game in Tampa Bay. Rookie Austin Hooper will start in his place … Broncos coach Gary Kubiak seems to be growing impatient with Trevor Siemian, who has struggled the past few weeks. “Some of his decision making wasn’t as good yesterday as it’s been,” said Kubiak at Monday’s media availability. Siemian’s backup is first-round rookie Paxton Lynch … Broncos DC Wade Phillips returned to work on Monday. Phillips broke his leg in a sideline collision on Sunday but appears to be okay … Colts top corner Vontae Davis has entered the league’s concussion protocol. The two-time Pro Bowler sat out two games earlier this year with an ankle injury … Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Thomas Rawls won’t be available for Week 9. Rawls hasn’t played since fracturing his fibula in Week 2. Christine Michael has been filling in as the starter and will likely retain that role when Rawls returns … The Cardinals are off to a disappointing 3-4-1 start and things will only get tougher without Tyrann Mathieu. He’s expected to miss 3-6 weeks with a shoulder subluxation. Larry Fitzgerald also injured himself in Week 8, though he was able to avoid a high-ankle sprain and should be fine to play after the Cardinals’ upcoming bye week … J.J. Nelson has officially surpassed Michael Floyd on the Cardinals’ depth chart at wide receiver. Nelson out-snapped Floyd 65-29 in Sunday’s loss to Carolina … The illness that sidelined Ty Montgomery in Week 8 is related to a sickle-cell condition. The Packers released Knile Davis on Monday, which suggests the team is confident Montgomery will be back in uniform for Sunday’s game against Indianapolis … The Titans are expected to monitor DeMarco Murray’s practice reps this week. Murray hurt his toe against Jacksonville in Week 8 but his MRI results came back clean … Cody Kessler has been cleared to return after missing Sunday’s game with a concussion. Josh McCown filled in for him in Week 8, completing 25-of-49 passes for 341 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a loss to the Jets … Texans owner Bob McNair said franchise quarterback Brock Osweiler is still “basically a rookie.” Osweiler owns PFF’s lowest quarterback grade out of 33 qualifiers this year … Cowboys owner Jerry Jones confirmed that Dak Prescott will draw another start against Cleveland in Week 9. Prescott had arguably his worst game of the season Sunday against Philadelphia but led a late comeback as the Cowboys captured their sixth straight victory. Tony Romo is still rehabbing a back injury but resumed practicing last week … Ben Roethlisberger returned to practice on Monday. He missed Week 7 with a torn meniscus but should be back this week against Baltimore.
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