Two years ago, former NFL safety Matt Bowen sat down with safety Landon Collins to watch film from his All-Pro season, one highlighted by big plays for a top defense. And Bowen was immediately impressed.
Collins, then 23, was singing a tune only a former player could appreciate: He was detailed in his pre-snap recognition and what the formation told him; he knew where his eyes should be and how he needed to react.
"It was everything you'd expect to hear sitting in the coaches office," said Bowen, now part of ESPN's NFL Matchup. "The things he told me were high-level stuff. The stuff you see pre-snap, that's where you find out who can take the game to another level. He was so well-versed in-game and with the opponent, to recall this in August, months after the season ended, was pretty impressive."
In addition to that, the Washington Redskins will add a safety who has shown an ability to excel in the box with a physical style. How much is that worth? For the Redskins on Monday, it was worth six years and $45 million guaranteed, most by any safety.
That's a lot of scratch for a safety, and not every team would be willing to go that high for a position some devalue. Safeties are dependent on those around and in front of them for success. Some do change games. Collins needs to be the latter to make this work. Too often the Redskins have handed out massive contracts that players don't live up to; it's a big reason why they haven't won 11 games since the 1991 season. Josh Norman became the game's highest-paid cornerback in 2016; he has not made an All-Pro team.
It helps that Collins turned only 25 in January; he's a three-time Pro Bowler just entering his prime. He once told ESPN's Dianna Russini before the 2015 draft that his dream was to play for the Redskins because of the late Sean Taylor. The Redskins have had multiple safeties come through town who have said the same (Su'a Cravens/D.J. Swearinger) but Collins is, by far, the best of the group.
Also, the Redskins have failed to adequately address this position for a decade, opting for lower-round picks or older veterans in their final years. It hasn't worked. They tried Swearinger the past two years and, though they liked parts of his game, they did not like everything -- and especially not him continuing to speak out. So they cut him.
Collins gives the Redskins a different sort of voice in the locker room. It's hard to put a price on what that means when one of your top players works a certain way and takes a proper approach. But that's his reputation. Perhaps it helps, too, that Washington's defense has such a strong Alabama influence. If they re-sign Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to play the other safety spot, the Redskins could have seven former Crimson Tide players starting. They're a serious bunch. The Redskins need serious bunches. Approach changes culture. The Redskins' defense was a fractured group, including in the secondary. When you have that, disaster awaits. As always, disaster followed.
A big knock on Collins entering this period was that he could play only in the box. We'll find out; most defenses require their safeties to be interchangeable as the Redskins have done for a while. But he'll absolutely be a force in the box; watch him play the run and tell me that's not needed in Washington. He sets the edge and plays physical. He's a good fit for when the Redskins use their Cover 3 look, which they often employ.
Last season, the Redskins defensive backs weren't good against the run, and sometimes it was how they handled crack-back blocks. A safety must send a message to a receiver coming down to block; that didn't happen nearly enough. The cornerback then has to fill, and that also needs to happen more (Fabian Moreau is good here). Collins can help with his style.
Collins had the third-highest tackle percentage (12.6) and third-quickest average time to tackle (4.85) among defensive backs last season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The problem in New York was not Collins.
"The toughness shows when you watch the film," Bowen said. "and he's more versatile than given credit for."
Collins can cover tight ends, but some backs (Chicago's Tarik Cohen) gave him fits in the slot. OK, don't match him up against those players. Coaching matters even for talented players; money won't turn him into a different player, but use him properly so he can max out.
The Redskins have a ways to go and it's clear they know the defense must improve. They don't have a dynamic offense, but they have excellent building blocks along the defensive line. They can help Collins look better.
The Redskins have not been big players in free agency the past few years. But team president Bruce Allen said at the Senior Bowl that they'll pay for what they consider a blue-chip player. Collins, for them, is a blue chipper.
And you can't discount this: Washington hasn't made the playoffs in three years; the Redskins need to win. Fans are staying away more than ever and while Collins alone won't sell a ton of tickets, they paid more hoping he brings W's more than fans.
Redskins fans no longer want hope; they want results. It's time the Redskins deliver. The cost in not doing so is far greater than what they'll pay Collins.