Whenever the New England Patriots make a crazy move, I always come back to the Randy Moss trade in 2010.
Moss spent three-plus seasons in New England. He was a beast. Took the top off opposing defenses like nobody else. His connection with Tom Brady was as good as you’ll ever see in the NFL.
Next thing you know, he was traded to Minnesota for a third-round pick.
I covered the Patriots for Comcast SportsNet at that time. In my years as a beat writer, I only asked a question if I was genuinely interested in the answer. That made for very little question-asking when I was in the Patriots’ locker room, because, well, you know how it goes in there. I could have guessed the answer to every question asked at Gillette. That’s not a complaint. That’s just an acknowledgement of how it goes in Foxboro under Bill Belichick.
In the days following the Moss trade, however, I had a question I needed answered. So I asked Wes Welker, straight up, “What does trading Randy Moss say to you? What type of message does that send to the team?”
Welker said, “Ummm…” and paused for a few seconds, which felt like a minute.
“There’s a sign on the wall when you walk in here,” he said to me. “It says, 'If you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be.'”
That wasn’t a shot at Moss. He was just answering the question. He was giving me a glimpse of what went on under the hoodie, and what it was like to play by Belichick's rules, whatever those rules may be.
Moss didn’t want to be in New England under the Patriots’ terms. He made that loud and clear with some postgame comments about his contract at the beginning of that season. And Welker’s response to my question summed it all up perfectly. That’s just how it goes in New England.
At the end of the day, it’s a business. And sometimes, it’s not a fun business. We saw that once again this week, as the Patriots traded 27-year-old Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns for a third-round compensatory draft pick.
The move comes as the Pats enter their bye week with a 7-1 record. If the playoffs began after Week 8, the Patriots would be the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the road to the Super Bowl would go through New England.
By simply looking at that, the Collins trade comes as quite a shock, not just in these parts, but throughout the entire NFL.
Why now? And why to Cleveland? In fact, why trade Collins at all?
The wild speculation has already begun. We have reports of Collins asking for “Von Miller money” when his rookie contract expires after this season. There are others knocking his on-field style, calling him a “freelancer." And there is some hinting that perhaps something happened “in-house,” which forced Belichick’s hand.
Perhaps it was all of those things, and then some. At least we know what it wasn’t. It wasn’t a football move. Because a football move wouldn’t be to trade an athletic linebacker like Collins during the season when you’re a favorite to win the Super Bowl.
Regardless of what type of “off-field” or “in-house” issue it was, there’s really only one reason Collins was traded. Once there are issues, Belichick sends messages.
Sending Collins to the 0-8 Browns is just that. It’s a message to his team, this year and beyond, much like the message that Welker mentioned to me six years ago: If you don’t want to be here — on Belichick’s terms — you don’t have to be.
And as much as I enjoyed watching Collins play, it’s tough to argue with Belichick’s success, as he seems destined for his sixth straight AFC Championship Game. To think that these Patriots will be completely thrown off-course because of one linebacker trade is a little ridiculous.
Knock him all you want, but Belichick has spent years creating the organization’s identity, and it’s worked. Nobody is bigger than the Patriot Way.
Collins is just the latest example.