BEREA, Ohio -- The loss of linebacker Jamie Collins for the season highlights what might have been for the Browns' defense.
Collins sprained his MCL in Sunday's loss to Detroit. He signed a lucrative free-agent contract in the offseason to stay with the Browns but has gone through a frustrating season. He missed three games with a concussion and hurt his knee in Detroit while being tackled after an interception.
The Browns’ enthusiasm about Collins has been consistent since they acquired him via trade from New England last season. The team has looked at him as one of the pillars of its future.
“That is a big blow to our defensive football team because he is one of our best players,” coach Hue Jackson said.
“You’re losing your captain, one of your playmakers on defense,” linebacker Chris Kirksey said.
Collins’ injury came in the first game this season in which the Browns had Collins, Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah and Jabrill Peppers in the starting lineup. That quartet represents the defense’s highest-paid player (Collins) and first- and second-round picks from the 2016 and '17 drafts, which means it in theory should be the unit’s core.
The group was on the field for six plays. Three were for a loss, one was Collins’ interception, and only one went for positive yards.
Detroit had one turnover and no points or first downs with Collins on the field with the other three players. When Collins left, the Lions had nine possessions and scored on five, with the last possession consisting of a couple of kneel-downs. Detroit had seven plays of 20 yards or more; all came after Collins was injured.
The play of the group together provided a brief but impressive glimpse of the unit's potential.
On Detroit’s first play, Ogbah and Garrett pressured Matthew Stafford, and he was sacked by Ogbah.
On second down, Ogbah tackled Ameer Abdullah for a loss of 6 yards.
On Detroit’s next possession, Garrett pressured Stafford into a bad throw that Collins intercepted.
In their six plays on the field together, the defense held the Lions to minus-3 yards and an interception. It isn't realistic to think that pace would have continued, but that five-minute stretch gave a hint of the highest hopes for the defense.
Collins signed a $50 million contract this offseason to stay with the Browns. ESPN’s Roster Management System relates that his $12.1 million salary-cap cost is 25.6 percent of the Browns’ total salary cap. Spotrac.com lists Collins as the seventh-highest-paid outside linebacker in the league.
His overall numbers did not reflect that pay, but Jackson and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams have steadfastly maintained that Collins’ value goes beyond his stats.