Why Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell is living up to his own words with Jamie Collins deal

Detroit Free Press

Dan Campbell didn’t have to do this, but he did it anyway.

The Detroit Lions coach wasn’t scheduled to speak with reporters Thursday morning, but there he was, throwing open the practice facility’s thick, glass doors and walking briskly up to the outdoors interview area to face the music a lot of other coaches would have tuned out.

Jamie Collins was indeed on the trading block, he told a group of reporters assembled in the falling rain. The linebacker would not be at practice later in the day and Campbell knew that would heighten speculation even further, as trade rumors had already started to circulate.

“Well, because you guys are going to already going to know,” Campbell explained about his decision to explain the trade. “It’s like, ‘Where’s Jamie?’ You already have, and so it’s like at some point, I mean, what are we doing? You can only hide so long and … as much as we can be, we want to be as transparent as we can, particularly with the player and I mean, it is what it is.”

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You can argue Campbell didn’t have much of a choice, but that speaks to a lack of understanding about the tight-lipped nature of the NFL, in general, and the Lions, in particular. Because the typical NFL recipe in cases like this has been a full course of denial sprinkled with some “no comments” and topped with “we don’t address rumors.”

Instead, Campbell fielded every uncomfortable question posed about a delicate subject. On a day he wasn’t supposed to talk, he spoke for nearly 11 minutes. In doing so, Campbell handled the first real crisis of his tenure magnificently. The Don Muhlbach situation was difficult, but not nearly as precarious as an in-season move with a high-profile player.

And it also gets better, because you’d better believe that the decision to proactively address this situation head on — both from public-relations and personnel standpoints — wasn’t made by Campbell alone. It was an organizational decision that required input from multiple participants.

If you’re the kind of Lions fan who has been frustrated with years of organizational ineptitude — OK, that just makes you a normal Lions fan — then you should feel good about the way Campbell and the Lions handled the whole thing.

After Campbell spoke, I turned to another veteran reporter and asked him to confirm if he remembered any other Lions coach taking such an aggressively proactive approach. Neither of us could recall another instance.

Is trading Collins the right call?

So that’s the external struggle the Lions faced. But the internal struggle might have been more difficult — Collins was shaky in coverage in the season opener against San Francisco, then looked like he was downright mailing it in Monday night in Green Bay.

To be fair, I wasn’t at Lambeau Field. So I can’t say I watched every snap Collins played. But he generally looked a step slow, especially compared with fellow linebacker Alex Anzalone. It was clear Anzalone was giving his full effort, even if he wasn’t much more effective.

Collins at times looked disinterested in pursuing the play. In the replays of Aaron Jones’ touchdown catches on the Packers’ first score and the pass that put Green Bay ahead, 28-17, in the third quarter, Collins’ effort is hard to watch and borderline embarrassing.

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On Tuesday, Campbell noted that Collins and Anzalone have different styles, but he admitted their effort wasn’t the same.

“I mean, look, Jamie’s a big linebacker,” Campbell said. “He’s a very athletic linebacker. And the way he moves is a little bit different.

“Now, does he move with the same effort and have the same effort as Alex? No, I don’t (think so). I think Alex just plays at a high level all the time. That’s him, that’s how he goes.”

The one thing any player can control is effort. That’s never a health or talent issue. And without a viable explanation, it was inexcusable that Collins’ effort wasn’t there.

Campbell tried to tamp down questions about Collins’ effort on Thursday if, for no other reason, the practical matter of keeping his trade value up. He thanked him for having a good attitude during a transition to a new coaching staff and tried to paint the move as a necessary part of getting younger players like Derrick Barnes and Jalen Reeves-Maybin more playing time.

But I’m shocked this happened, because I assumed Collins would find his stride. An excellent player in the past, Collins seemed like his struggles could be coached away.

Obviously, Campbell knew that wasn’t going to happen. Unless Collins opens up, Darius Slay-style, at his next stop, we won’t know what his issue was with Campbell and this regime.

People might want to point at Collins’ age — he turns 32 in October — but it doesn’t look like a talent issue. A  guy who had 101 tackles, a sack, an interception and three forced fumbles just last season doesn’t fall apart over a summer. (Of course, in the grand tradition of Lions castoffs, he’ll probably be a Pro Bowler with his next team.)

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But it’s still the right move to jettison a player who looks like he doesn’t want to be here. Sometimes it just isn’t a good fit between a new regime and an inherited player. Even if Collins’ replacements aren’t much better, the bigger mistake would have been to keep him around merely to avoid an uncomfortable discussion.

This is also the first real example of Campbell living up to his promise about biting kneecaps. That whole speech started with the idea of an unrelenting fight and an indomitable spirit. That day, he also talked about how paramount compatibility was in coaching.

On Thursday, Campbell lived up to his words. He walked the walk and talked the talk, even on a day when he didn’t have to.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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