FOXBORO – In Bill Belichick's first decade with the Patriots, jaw-dropping personnel decisions – additions and subtractions both – became routine.
I'm talking about those from-the-rafters moves like shipping out Lawyer Milloy or Richard Seymour or bringing aboard Corey Dillon or Randy Moss.
But this decade it was a little quieter. Until Halloween of 2016. That's when Jamie Collins was traded to the Cleveland Browns. Duron Harmon said Thursday the move was an NFL epiphany for him.
"He was a Pro Bowler and a second-team All-Pro the year before," Harmon said after one of the Patriots' OTA workouts. "Any time that happens you're shocked because it's your friend. I think that was probably one of the first real eye-opening experiences where I realized this is a business. We came in together, we're great friends and he's here one moment and the next moment he's all the way in Cleveland."
The Collins trade illustrated how time in a Patriots uniform can be fleeting. But what happened post-trade was the real lesson. Individually, Patriots players could hate the deal down to a man. But as a team, they pocketed the indignation and went about proving Belichick right even if they thought he was wrong. They improved.
Now Collins is back and Harmon – a close friend – is happy for that.
"Me and Jamie came in together (in the 2013 draft class)," said Harmon. "We're friends. When he went to Cleveland we stayed in contact and we kept talking. The relationship didn't break. We all know, he's a tremendous football player. Athletic ability through the roof and he's just about to come in here, do what he do and earn his spot wherever it is. Play hard and help us try to win football games."
Even if the trade to Cleveland felt like an exile, Collins did get the payday he hoped for: a four-year, $50 million deal that he realized $27 million of. As Harmon tells it, there is no hesitancy on Collins' part about coming back.
"He's excited to be back, so that's always good when the excitement is there," he said. "I'm really just looking forward to seeing him out there again, seeing him with us, building that chemistry and doing everything we can to make sure we got the best defense come the first game."
With Collins in the mix, the Patriots are better now than they were on Tuesday. Everybody's a little bit older. But they're also a little bit wiser.
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