There are a few facts we should establish about Jalen Collins before we dive into this article, because he has already sharply divided Falcons fans and is the topic du jour on social media today.
- Jalen Collins is a 24-year-old former second round pick hand-selected by the Dan Quinn/Thomas Dimitroff regime, even if there’s been some reports that one or the other wasn’t a huge fan of his coming into the draft;
- Jalen Collins was a fine starter, with some hiccups, over the back half of the season in 2016 and into the playoffs;
- Jalen Collins has only started eight regular season games in two seasons with the Falcons;
- Jalen Collins is suspended for ten games, his second suspension after picking up four games in 2016;
- Jalen Collins played poorly last night in the first preseason game.
We need those facts because any discussion of Collins threatens to go off the rails immediately. That’s what happens when you have a player many in the fanbase already didn’t care for earning a ten game suspension and maintaining a social media presence that falls short of the kind of contriteness many like athletes to display when they screw up. We need it, too, because that last fact above is threatening to overshadow everything else.
We don’t know why the Falcons chose to play Collins so much last night. It certainly couldn’t have been to audition for a trade, because anything he did against deep backups was unlikely to move the needle in that direction. If it was just to give him some work because he’ll have so little once the regular season hits, it was fine. If it was to help the team determine whether they were going to keep him when he returns from suspension, he didn’t do himself any favors.
Then again, neither did C.J. Goodwin, who is virtually locked into a roster spot thanks to Collins’ suspension. The reason no one is panicking about Goodwin is because we know he can play at a higher level in the regular season—we’ve seen it, after all—and because he doesn’t have a looming suspension that has fans and analysts ready to embrace the narrative that he is bad. It’s an easy narrative to buy into, right now.
The Falcons are going to make a business decision with Collins, ultimately, that will boil down to whether he’s a good enough and important enough player—whether they need him—to keep around. If his replacements do well, and their very real anger at his suspension keeps simmering, the Falcons will decide they can get on without him and release him to send a message. If his replacements struggle, they cool down, and they feel what he did last year overshadows what he did against the Dolphins (as it should), then they’ll keep him around. It’s a simple calculus, and while this game surely will add fuel to the fire if they go with the former option, it’s not going to be a major part of the decision. Period.
One thing is clear: Collins is going to be a deeply unpopular man in Atlanta until he gets back on the field and plays well. It will be a long time until that happens, and it’s still fair to suggest that it may never happen at all. Until the moment of truth arrives, you’re better off worrying about the guys who will be playing come Week 1.