As we swiftly approach training ahead of the impending 2022 campaign, several veteran difference-makers remain on the free-agent market. The recent signings of Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry prove that NFL franchises are still combing through the list of unrestricted free agents in search of improvement. Free-agent safety Landon Collins remains one of the more intriguing defenders available.
A three-time consecutive Pro Bowler between 2016-18, Collins spent the majority of the 2021 campaign playing a hybrid-linebacker role for the Washington Commanders. Collins remained an effective defender in his seventh professional season, recording 81 total tackles, two interceptions, and 3.0 sacks in 13 regular-season appearances. A late-December foot injury ended Collins’ season prematurely and Commanders General Manager Martin Mayhew designated him as a post-June 1 release in mid-March. Releasing Collins helped the Commanders clear nearly $7 million in available cap space and was instrumental in creating the financial freedom necessary to acquire quarterback Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts.
Advancing age and a lengthy injury history mean Collins is best suited to continue playing in the box as a hybrid linebacker going forward, as opposed to handling rangy coverage duties on the back end. We’ve identified three franchises that could benefit from signing Collins before training camp.
Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman addressed an evolving secondary by signing free-agent cornerback James Bradberry to a lucrative one-year contract on Wednesday afternoon. The addition of Bradberry proves Roseman remains open to improving an Eagles roster that appears primed to contend for a division title in 2022.
With the need at cornerback now promptly taken care of, Roseman could turn his attention to the safety position next. The Eagles re-signed Anthony Harris to a low-cost one-year contract earlier this offseason but did allow Rodney McLeod to depart to Indianapolis on a similar contract. As things stand, the Eagles are set to enter the new season with Harris and former Clemson standout K’Von Wallace as their starting safeties. The largely inexperienced Wallace played just 183 defensive snaps last season. It represents a less than ideal situation for a defense that is otherwise littered with firepower in the front seven, and at cornerback. The depth behind Harris and Wallace is essentially non-existent with Jared Mayden, Marcus Epps, and undrafted free agent Reed Blankenship rounding out the safety position.
The Eagles just bolstered their secondary by signing a player away from their NFC East division rival New York Giants. Could they target Collins and the Commanders next?
Collins’ release from the Commanders earlier this offseason was purely financially motivated after the former Alabama standout failed to meet the expectations of a sizable six-year contract worth $84 million. Collins made it through just three years of that deal, as the Commanders couldn’t legitimately stomach carrying his cap hit of approximately $16.08 million into the 2022 campaign. Business is business, as they say, and the Commanders would likely entertain a reunion with Collins on a shorter-term, team-friendly deal.
Should Collins agree to continue playing in a hybrid role in Jack Del Rio’s defense, the Commanders may have interest in fielding additional three-safety set looks alongside Kamren Curl and Bobby McCain moving forward. It was a look that often worked for Del Rio’s defense in 2021.
A seventh-round selection out of Arkansas in the 2020 NFL Draft, Curl has broken out of his shell while routinely flourishing since ironically stepping into the lineup due to an injury suffered by Collins in 2020. Collins’ inability to thrive in man-coverage in a pass-happy league helped catapult a more permanent move to the box a year ago. A depleted linebacker corps also contributed, as did Curl’s breakout. With Collins’ list of potential suitors dwindling by the day, a reunion in Washington could make sense for all parties involved.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
The Raiders were expected to make a run at Bradberry in hopes of bolstering their undermanned secondary, but Bradberry decided to sign with the Eagles instead. A new regime has taken shape in Vegas that includes general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels. An aggressive offseason has seen the Raiders secure the services of Davante Adams and Chandler Jones, but more is required at safety.
There’s a connection worth exploring here. New Raiders Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham previously spent two seasons (2016-17) on the Giants’ defensive coaching staff throughout Collins’ tenure in East Rutherford. Collins qualified for the Pro Bowl in both seasons. Graham is extremely familiar with Collins’ skill set as a versatile defender that can wear multiple hats for his defense. Graham would eventually become the Giants’ assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, but Collins had already departed for Washington.
The Raiders should continue tinkering with their secondary and linebacker grouping ahead of the impending campaign. The current depth chart leaves plenty to be desired at both position groups. Playing in a division alongside Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Russell Wilson guarantees annual tests for their defense. Adding Collins would help move the needle forward in Vegas.