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Dont'a Hightower: Collins' Patriot departure 'sucked'

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The Patriots adjusted to the loss of linebacker Jamie Collins via trade, but I can't help but wonder if they will miss the versatile defender in a Super Bowl matchup against the Falcons, a team that can fluster offenses with their dual-threat running backs out of the backfield.

Dont'a Hightower told reporters Monday night that Collins was his favorite player in the NFL and gave his honest opinion about his feelings surrounding Collins' trade to Cleveland.

"It sucked," Hightower said, via WEEI. "It's part of the business and we've kind of moved on from it. Obviously he's doing a good job. He got his contract extended and everything. Everything is going well for him and I obviously wish him the best. We're here now."

This must be a conflicting time for Hightower, who is set to hit the free agent market this offseason. The Patriots have made a living jettisoning soon-to-be expired contracts but he is still here playing out the final weeks of his rookie deal. Coach Bill Belichick will almost undoubtedly make an offer, and it is a safe bet that it won't be as lucrative as the one that Collins received. The Patriots have let better players walk in the past.

Collins, who could not reach an amenable contract extension with the Patriots, saw his playing time dwindle before the deal went down. Hightower said the trade was responsible for a slight dip in play before a resounding rebound. The versatile scheme crafted by Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is clearly bigger than one player.

"We had guys come in who didn't play, who hadn't done things like that on that kind of level," Hightower said. "Again, I think those guys did a hell of a job filling in and we had a rotation moving around with different defensive linemen and stuff."

Perhaps the only bonus in Collins' departure was that it made New England realize how valuable Hightower's presence truly is. He'll certainly have his hands full this weekend trying to do it without the player he believes is the best in the NFL.

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