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Browns nearing contract with linebacker Jamie Collins

By TOM WITHERS

AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) The Browns let several of their top free agents slip away last year. They've got their arms wrapped around a new one now.

Cleveland is close to finalizing a multi-year contract with talented linebacker Jamie Collins, who joined the team midway through its 1-15 season but showed the Browns that he's a player worth keeping for a long time.

CBSSports.com first reported the Browns and Collins had made significant progress on a contract, which could be completed as early as Friday.

Late in the season, Browns coach Hue Jackson said it would be "a coup" if the Browns could sign Collins, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in March. The Browns acquired Collins on Oct. 31 from New England, sending a conditional draft pick - likely a third-rounder in April - to the Patriots for the 27-year-old, who made the Pro Bowl after the 2015 season.

In eight games with Cleveland, Collins had 48 tackles, two sacks and forced a fumble. He said he enjoyed playing with the Browns, and was open to the possibility of re-signing with them.

"He is a dependable player," Browns coach Hue Jackson said in the season's final days. "He is accountable. We have asked a lot of him. We have played him in a couple different spots. He has taken all of that on and hasn't blinked. That is a tribute to him. He came in here, fit in with his teammates and started playing.

"I have a lot of respect for him. Hopefully we can keep him around here."

Last year, the Browns chose not to re-sign several key free agents, including Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, safety Tashaun Gipson and wide receiver Travis Benjamin - all starters - before free agency opened and they went to new teams.

After the season finale, owner Jimmy Haslam said keeping some of the team's top free agents was a priority.

Cornerback Joe Haden said it was essential for the Browns to lock up players like Collins.

"It's just something that we definitely, definitely need on our defense," Haden said on Dec. 30. "If we want to be a dominant defense, we have to have players like him."

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Updated January 19, 2017

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