There is more to it than analytics, of course. There is more to any evaluation of a player other than raw data and cold, hard assessments of what he does well and what he does poorly.
The Giants deciding not to use the franchise tag on Landon Collins and not engage in any conversation about a long-term deal is unpopular with the masses of fans who bought those No. 21 jerseys and watched the young safety develop from a capable rookie into an established Pro Bowl defender. For the Giants, it was strictly business, nothing personal.
There is nothing not to like about Collins, off the field or in the locker room. He did the right things for the right reasons. He tried to take a team-first approach even when the environment around him was crumbling. He played hard, he played well and he played hurt. In his view, he did all he could to earn a lucrative second contract and, in less than a week, he likely will sign on the dotted line, a free agent prize for a team with an immediate need for a strong safety to insert into their lineup.
The Giants certainly valued Collins but not at the price tag he wants and is expecting to receive. The franchise tag of $11.15 million was too rich for the Giants’ thinking, and the $10 million-$12 million per year he will probably fetch on the open market is not a place the Giants wanted to go. It would have benefited the Giants if they realized where this was headed prior to last year’s trading deadline but, alas, they did not, and now must absorb warranted criticism for allowing one of their best players to leave with nothing in return, other than a compensatory draft pick in 2020.
From a pure metrics standpoint, during the past three seasons, and especially in 2018, Collins was barely and most often not one of the top 10 safeties in the league, according to rankings compiled by Pro Football Focus. Not surprisingly, Collins’ highest grades came in 2016, his breakout year, and his lowest marks came when assessing his 2018 work in coverage.
In the past three years, PFF has Collins as the NFL’s 15th-best safety, with an overall grade of 86.2. By comparison, eight players — Earl Thomas, Harrison Smith, Eddie Jackson, Devin McCourty, Adrian Amos, Micah Hyde, Kevin Byard and Eric Weddle — graded in the 90s. Collins’ grades went down each year since 2016, from 82.4 to 82.3 to last season’s 70.4, which ranked him 43rd among the league’s safeties in 2018. Collins was 10th in 2016 and 12th in 2017.
Based on his high production in 2016 (four sacks, five interceptions in 16 games) and his lack of production in 2018 (no sacks, no interceptions in 12 games) it appears as if Collins was not an ideal match in the system installed by defensive coordinator James Bettcher. Collins is not really an interchangeable safety, as he is more of a linebacker/strong safety hybrid.
The metrics bear this out as well. In the past three years, PFF ranked Collins tied for 10th among all safeties when lined up in the box (close to the line of scrimmage), and 49th when lined up deeper in a free safety position. He ranked fifth when lined up in the slot, an indication he excels using his strength in confined areas.
As a run defender, Collins ranked 11th in the league the past three years. In coverage, his ranking dropped to 21st. His run defense operating in the box was rated sixth-best in the NFL and his deep coverage was 43rd.
The departure of Collins leaves the Giants with another starting job to fill and they may not want to spend what it takes to sign a player as good as, or better than Collins. This all depends on what valuation general manager Dave Gettleman applies to the safety position, given his longstanding belief it is the big men that help a team compete more than any other players on the field.
The Giants tendered three of their exclusive rights free agents: K Aldrick Rosas, C Jon Halapio and FB Eli Penny. Rosas made the Pro Bowl in his second NFL season and Halapio was the starting center the first two games before suffering a fractured ankle.